Harriet Ann Emerson Lehman of Fort Mill, S.C., entered the more immediate presence of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, on June 12, 2020 after a brief illness. Reports of her age vary greatly but she was in fact, 87.
Harriet was born in Nanty Glo, Pa., the sixth child of David M. and Hattie C. Emerson. While four brothers and a sister were serving or assisting in World War II efforts, Harriet, as the baby of the family, provided comfort and delight to her parents with unrelenting cheerfulness and songs played on the piano. No matter what, there was always money for sheet music. As a teenager she played piano and organ and sang in the Nanty Glo Methodist Church choir, and after high school she taught piano lessons full-time until joining the Women’s Air Force (WAF) at age 20.
As an A/1C, she was assigned to the Chaplaincy, serving as an assistant to the chaplains, organist/pianist for all Protestant worship services, and directing religious education for children who were housed on the base. She started a WAF choir while stationed at Lackland AFB (San Antonio, Texas) and when later assigned to Samson Air Force Base (Geneva, N.Y.) the Parish Hall became her domain. There was no bible school arts-and-crafts time that she didn’t turn into a master class and no child on base who didn’t experience absolute joy when making “a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
Harriet met the love of her life, Charles “Chuck” Lehman while in the Air Force. They married July 16, 1955 and built a life and a family together, living in Hagerstown, Md., Falls Church, Va., Reisterstown, Md., Winston-Salem, N.C., and Atlanta, Ga. Everywhere they lived, Harriet made fast friends and tried new things.
She started painting while living in Winston-Salem, a hobby that turned into a passion for watercolor. The combination of difficulty and spontaneity is what she liked best about the medium. Later, as a member of the Atlanta Art Guild, she showed and sold watercolor paintings in community galleries and juried art exhibits, including one at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center (she was particularly proud of this one).
She took to everything that captured her imagination with equal measure of relish and seriousness. Harriet was all in for anything competitive, from bowling to bridge and tennis and golf. She and Chuck spent the first decade of their retirement in Leesburg, Fla. Her children joked that their mother was the summer camp queen of the Royal Highlands active-adult community. There were few surfaces in the home that didn’t sport a crystal rose bowl or silver loving cup she’d won in a golf tournament. Once, during a couples tournament, a wild ball hit Harriet over the eye. Fortunately, sunglasses took most of the blow but she got a nasty cut. First aid was administered by club personnel who also reported that she and Chuck were in the lead. With that, Harriet insisted that stitches could wait until they finished the last nine.
An irrepressible extrovert, Harriet always found others who shared her love for music and the arts. What began as a few neighbors who gathered around her spinet piano to sing old gospel hymns on Sunday evening, turned into an 84-voice choir of seniors. Under her direction, they presented winter and spring concerts, performed at churches around Leesburg, and during Christmas season, entertained at Walt Disney World. (Eighty-four was the maximum capacity of the stage in Royal Highlands’ assembly hall. She would have welcomed more.)
Harriet and Chuck moved to Fort Mill, SC in 2006, to be closer to family and enjoy changing seasons again. Her watercolors seemed to get more vibrant with every passing year, and in many ways, so did she, making new friends with neighbors, bridge buddies, church-folk and anyone standing in the same line at Publix supermarket.
In addition to her husband, Chuck, she is survived by her brother Clair Emerson of Toledo, Ohio.; daughter, Lou Ann Lamb (husband, Allen), son, Chip Lehman (wife, Sherry); four grandchildren, Joshua Lamb, Caroline O’Brien Stricker (Mike), Courtney Lehman Butler (Sean) and Cullen Lehman; two great-grandsons, T.J. and Alex O’Brien.
Based on the feeling with which she played it, her favorite hymn was probably, “The Love of God.” The lyrics start like this:
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
Those who knew Harriet Lehman would use similar words to describe how she loved us. We feel quite sure she was received On High with trumpets, confetti and a tiara of stars.
Memorials may be made to
Palmetto Funeral Home of Fort Mill, S.C. is assisting the family with arrangements. Interment with military honors will be held at Salisbury National Cemetery in Salisbury, N.C., at a later date.