“I’ll retire when the devil retires.” Gary Harthcock faithfully lived out his famous words on four continents and in multiple avenues of service.
Longtime International Mission Board worker and volunteer Gary Harthcock, who died Jan. 5 at age 97 in Thailand, served in six countries with his late wife Evelyn who preceded him in death.
“That quote was taped to his desk, and he told me he read it every day. He has truly lived that out,” Kathryn Monroe* said. “Retirement was not in his vocabulary.” Kathryn and her husband Philip* were friends of Gary.
Gary went to be with the Lord on January 5 after an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was 97. He and his wife Evelyn were married 69 years before she passed away in September 2015. They served together overseas for 40 years in six countries.
International Mission Board (IMB) missionary Phil Wardell* served with the Harthcocks in Cambodia.
“It was such a blessing to have these ‘grandparents’ join our team, and they were truly a team in every respect of the word in terms of how they ministered together in the city,” Wardell said. “There are very few people that have left such a legacy in missions, as they have given birth to [spiritual] sons and daughters in the Caribbean, Liberia, Guyana, Mongolia, Cambodia, Thailand, and virtually in almost every country where they have visited since they began their marriage.”
Gary was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on July 7, 1919. He served as a patrol plane commander in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Gary married Evelyn Dorothy White in 1945 and retired from active military service in 1946.
Gary used his bachelor of science degree in agriculture in a number of arenas, including starting a business building greenhouses. He eventually joined the staff at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and was later the director of Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute in Hendersonville, North Carolina.
Gary and Evelyn began serving with IMB when he was 56 and she was 55. They first served on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean. They developed irrigation systems on several islands and used agriculture to minister to the people.
Although they officially retired in 1985, they continued to work alongside IMB. Their life centered on loving, serving and showing people Jesus. Their service continued through multiple short-term and volunteer mission assignments.
Gary and Evelyn moved to Liberia in 1986 with IMB’s Master’s Program to continue the ministry efforts of IMB workers who returned to the U.S. for home assignments.
In 1992, the couple moved to Mongolia to teach English to medical doctors. While serving there, also with IMB’s Master’s Program, the couple wrote 85 lessons on the parts of the human body. These lessons were later published. Gary and Evelyn led 17 Mongolians to the Lord and started a church that was the first Christian church approved by the government.
The Harthcocks’ ministry service with IMB continued in Guyana where they served for six months before they relocated to Cambodia in 1996 to teach English to Buddhist monks and doctors, surgeons and medical professionals in hospitals.
Gary and Evelyn hosted birthday parties for Buddhist monks in their home and served spaghetti, French bread and birthday cake. As the Harthcocks shared the gospel, several Buddhist monks made decisions to follow Christ and left the monastery, following the Lord in believer’s baptism and joining the church.
As a result of their time teaching English, Gary and Evelyn developed “Easy English Teaching” tools and wrote 19 books for teaching English to Buddhist monks and others. Through these booklets, English students are exposed to the gospel.
In 1999, the Harthcocks, then in their late 70s, moved to Thailand and continued ministering and writing books, Bible lessons and tracts that have since been translated into seven languages and are used worldwide. Gary was 82 and Evelyn was 81 years old when they completed their Master’s Program assignments. The couple continued to serve using their own funds.
In his last days in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Gary wrote daily spiritual devotionals, titled “Spiritual Food,” that were distributed to people worldwide via email. He always addressed the emails to his “lovable worldwide family.”
Philip Monroe, a member of Gary’s “worldwide family,” said Gary’s life influenced him in several ways. “First, I am so impressed with his perseverance in ministry. Until the very day he was diagnosed with an aneurism that would end his life in a few days, he remained faithful in teaching the Bible through daily devotionals he sent to over a hundred people every day. Second, only a few months ago, he finished another one of his books that spreads the gospel through easy-to-read Bible stories in simple English. … Third, he loved people. During these last days at the hospital, many hospital staff came to his room in tears and hugged him and showed respect for him. The consistent incarnational life that he has lived among a lost world has accompanied his continual verbal witness to the life-changing message of the gospel.
“The key verse that comes to mind is 2 Timothy 2:2, ‘The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.’ This was Gary.”
Gary Harthcock is survived by his sister, Margaret Varnell of Cleveland, Tennessee; his brother, Thomas B. Harthcock, Sr. of Newton, Mississippi; sister-in-law, Lea Harthcock of Raymond, Mississippi; sister-in-law, Jean Finch of Raleigh, North Carolina; foster daughter, Carmen Fitzsimons of Summerville, South Carolina; as well as nieces, nephews, foster grandchildren and foster great-grandchildren. His wife, Evelyn White Harthcock; his parents, Martin Bates Harthcock and Thelma Bobo Barmer Harthcock of Clarksdale Mississippi; his sister, Doris Helen Harthcock Wallace; and his brother, Martin Bates Harthcock, Jr., preceded Gary in death.
Gary’s memorial service will be held Saturday, January 14 at Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Memorials, condolences, and tributes can be shared on Gary’s memorial website: forevermissed.com/gary-harthcock/#about
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in Gary’s honor. imb.org/lottie-moon-christmas-offering.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Asia.)