David Harper, Georgia’s First Licensed Taxidermist, Dies at 73
David Franklin Harper, 73, died peacefully on Sunday, February 12, 2017, at Emory University Hospital of complications from CMML, a rare form of leukemia. CMML occurs in only 4 out of every one million people in the United States each year, affecting less than 1,500 individuals annually.
Born on March 29, 1943, David was a lifelong resident of Gilmer County. From an early age, David developed a love of the outdoors that would define his life’s journey, both as an adventurer and as a world-class taxidermist.
David began his career as a taxidermist in 1955 at the age of 12 years old, beginning with correspondence courses from the University of Nebraska, and continuing by trial-and-error to perfect his artistry. By the age of 16, David was performing taxidermy services for the public, and was recognized as “Most Talented” for his skills by Gilmer High School upon his graduation in 1961.
The first in his family to attend college, David enrolled at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, graduating with a double major in Accounting and Business Administration in 1965. Following graduation, David joined the Army National Guard, completing basic training at Fort Polk Army Base near Leesville, Louisiana, receiving an honorable discharge in 1971. David also taught math at Gilmer High School from 1965 through 1967.
Both during college and in the early years thereafter, David continued to perfect and refine his taxidermy skills. By 1967, he had officially founded Harper’s Taxidermy Studio, expanding his business with additional production facilities by the early 1970’s. David was a true pioneer of taxidermy in the State of Georgia, and became Georgia’s first licensed taxidermist in 1972, paving the way for the licensing of taxidermists throughout the state. By the end of the decade, not only was Harper’s Taxidermy Studios was the largest taxidermy business in the state (a distinction it would hold for at least the next 20 years), but it was also one of the top-three taxidermy businesses in the southeastern United States, with pick-up and distribution stations in nine different states. All together, David practiced taxidermy for over 62 years, operating the longest continuously running taxidermy business in state history. Conservatively, Mr. Harper completed over 100,000 fish and wildlife mounts during his lifetime.
David was an avid outdoorsman. His legendary 18-point “Anderson Creek” whitetail deer remains as one of the top-ten bucks ever taken in Gilmer County some 50-plus years later. Mr. Harper’s 12 lb., 12 oz. brown trout, caught just below the Dairy Queen in 1971, was the second largest in state history at the time, and remains as one of the top-20 brown trout ever caught in Georgia. David was a true adventurer, completing big-game hunting and fishing trips all over the United States and the world, including trips to Colorado, Alaska, Michigan, Mexico, Canada, Russia and New Zealand.
Mr. Harper was also a life-long supporter of the Boy Scouts of America, and was a member of one of Ellijay’s earliest Scouting units, Troop 115, and later served as Chairman of Troop 402. David attended Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico, in 1957, completed all requirements for Eagle Scout, was a member of Scouting’s national honor society, and completed the prestigious Wood Badge leadership course. He was also a noted builder of Pinewood Derby cars, building several winning cars.
A member of New Hope Baptist Church for over 60 years, Mr. Harper was an active member of the church until his death. Mr. Harper served the church in numerous leadership roles, including church clerk and as the church’s Adult Sunday School teacher for over 10 years.
Mr. Harper was preceded in death by his parents, Mr. Austin Franklin Harper, and Ruth Starks Harper, both of Ellijay. David is survived by his wife of 50 years, Marilyn Ruth Tolliver Harper; his son and daughter-in-law, Frank and Melissa Harper of Newnan, Georgia; his daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Patrick McVey of Ellijay; five grandchildren, including Merideth Harper, William F. Harper, Jackson McVey, Preston McVey, and Roxy McVey; sister Barbara Morse and husband Steve Morse; sister Gale May and husband Ronald May; niece Tina Bailey; and nephew Linsey May.
Visitation will be on Wednesday, February 15, 2017, from 12:00 noon until 4:00pm at Logan’s Funeral Home in Ellijay, followed immediately thereafter by funeral services at 4pm in the Logan Funeral Home Chapel with Rev. Steve Jones and Rev. Chad Kelly officiating. Interment will follow in the New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery with Herbert Wright, Alan Davenport, Bill Withrow, Tim Starks, Lee Parks, Robbie Cantrell, Jonathan Gibson and David Dockery serving as pallbearers. Honorary pallbearers will be Benny Slaughter, Don Patrick, Johnny Withrow, John Nelson, Lynn Ward, Roy Allen, Jimmy Logan, Lamar Holland, Paul "Snook" Herbert, Ron Tyacke, Lowell Davis and Will Harper. Flowers are acceptable, or memorial contributions may be made to New Hope Baptist Church in Mr. Harper’s honor in care of Mr. Edgar Land, 822 Tails Creek Road, Ellijay, Georgia 30540.
Logan’s Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Online condolences may be made to the family at www.loganfuneralhome.com