Olivia Harless


Olivia Harless, beloved wife, mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother, passed away recently into the arms of Jesus. 

She was born in Falfurrias, Texas, and spent her early childhood in San Diego, Texas, where her father worked in the bank. When she was a teen, the family moved to San Antonio and she attended a brand-new school, Jefferson High School. She joined the Lassos, a service, performance, and spirit organization, whose name was derived from the rope with a noose at one end used for catching cattle or horses. The girls tied the lassos around their waists and used them in their dance routine. The group was the first of its kind and so renowned that Life magazine wrote about them in the March 7, 1938 edition. Soon, an invitation came for the Lassos to perform at the New York World’s Fair of 1939. Olivia rode the train with the other girls and their sponsors from San Antonio to New York for the performance, and then on to Washington, DC. Elenore Roosevelt welcomed them to the White House for tea, and the First Lady shook each girl’s hand, one by one, including Olivia’s. The Lassos travelled on to perform at Niagara Falls. Reporters covered the trip and sent photographs back to the San Antonio newspaper of this experience of a lifetime for Olivia.

After high school graduation, Olivia attended Mary Baldwin College in Stanton, Virginia, transferring to the University of Texas to graduate with a degree in education. She was a member of Chi Omega sorority.

After college, Olivia taught 53 children in the third grade at Lorenzo de Zavala Elementary School in San Antonio. She was elected into Girls’ Cotillion. On a blind date, she met Gonzales native, Bob Harless, who had moved to San Antonio to work in the oil business after World War II. Following two years of lost contact, Bob and Olivia were reacquainted and married.

The couple had three daughters. Olivia and the girls moved with Bob, who was a landman for ExxonMobil, to many different cities, including Oklahoma City, Dallas, Wichita Falls, Midland, and Houston. In Wichita Falls she was busy raising the children, teaching Sunday School with Bob at Fain Memorial Presbyterian, serving as circle leader, and working in all aspects of the church. She was active in other volunteer work, including President of the Land Scout Wives, DAR, and the symphony and ballet boards.

In Dallas, Olivia worked as a substitute teacher, served as President of the Landmen Wives, and volunteered at Highland Park Presbyterian Church.

After Bob’s retirement from ExxonMobil in the early 1980s, Olivia moved with him back to Bob’s cherished hometown of Gonzales, where his family had deep roots dating to just after the Texas Revolution. She served as Moderator of the Presbyterian Women and circle chairman, along with other church jobs. She was President of Woman’s Study Club twice, former member of the Spade and Trowel Garden Club, the Library Board, and Regent of the Thomas Shelton Chapter of DAR.

She also helped Bob run the family business, Walker Farms, and was engaged in land management and investments until they both retired a few years ago.

Each summer, Olivia spent many happy months with her husband in the mountains of New Mexico, where they had dear friends. Olivia’s hobbies included reading, exercising, watching sports broadcasts, writing and answering emails, word puzzles, and playing dominoes. In the warm months in Gonzales, Bob and she were entertained by swarms of hummingbirds as well as purple martins, which returned from South America each spring to raise their young in the backyard gourds. In December, Olivia would never miss the pipe organ concerts at the Presbyterian Church with Bob, who helped install the instrument in 1925.

Loving to spend time with her family and friends, Olivia found something treasured in each human being. She was a beauty inside and out. She lived at home with her beloved husband “Bobby” until they were separated by his death at age 102, and then she continued to live independently at home until recently. Her mind was sharp and full of wisdom. By her example, the family learned what true love meant, how far love would really go for another person, and how to live in strength and devotion. Most importantly, she taught her daughters to walk with God, what she strove to do each day.

Olivia is survived by her loving daughters and their husbands, Betty and Dana Nicolay; Ida and Ralph McGarity; Olivia and David Yancey; and grandchildren Dane Robert Nicolay, Ian Elliott Nicolay, David Robert Yancey and Diana Lee McGarity.

A special thank-you is extended to her doctor, Terry Eska, and his staff, and our many friends at the Heights. Pallbearers were the sons-in-law and grandchildren. Honorary pallbearers were the 9 o’clock coffee group.

Services were held at Seydler-Hill Chapel, Rev. Carl McCauley officiating.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Estey Pipe Organ Fund (for the organ’s upkeep and annual concerts) at the Presbyterian Church, 414 St. Louis Street, Gonzales, TX 78629; or to the Robert Lee Brothers Jr. Memorial Library, 301 St. Joseph, Gonzales, TX 78629.