Host of epic oyster roasts. Raconteur par excellence and keeper of many secrets— of shrimp boats, contraband, and escapades, Harvey Lashley easily shares some lessons he has learned about the world.
Oh, and he is the first and long-time Director of Parks and Trees for the City of Richmond Hill.
A local treasure. An unsung hero: until recently.
Named the inaugural Tree Hero of 2022, Lashely was honored in March by the Coastal Bryan Tree Foundation at their annual oyster roast, with a 40-gallon live oak planted in his honor. The tree, marked with a plaque, sits beside the cottage that is his office in J. F. Gregory Park.
Bryan County born and educated, Lashley traveled the world, courtesy of the U. S. Marines. At 17, he found himself in boot camp at Camp LeJejeune, North Carolina, where his real world education began.
“ I was bad,” Lashley says with an earnest smile. “ My daddy was hard, and I was rebellious.” But it didn’t take long for him to learn some life lessons that have stood him in good stead all the years since.
“ People are pretty much the same the world over. They laugh, they cry, they have children that they love.” No sudden revelation, just a slowly growing awareness through four years and 18 countries that the boy from Bryan County absorbed.
“I remember I was in Naples, Italy. There was this guy, Enrico. He invited me to his home for supper with his family.I must of been 19. His wife. His mother lived with them. There were several courses, a big meal. Wine. Board games. Laughing. So you see, not so different.”
After the Marines, with a wife and a baby on the way and no job, another lesson: “Nobody’s going to give you anything. If you want it, you got to work for it. And I did.” But when the marriage broke up, the pull of home grew stronger.
The marshes and the live oaks, rooted in his boyhood heart, brought him home to family and Richmond Hill. His mother’s people, the Rushings, were from Clyde, now incorporated into the Fort Stewart reservation, and his Uncle Perry served on the county commission. The Rushings were from here.
Fishing was a way of life on the Georgia coast, work that suited Lashley. After shrimping for 13 years—“ I worked from Pamlico Sound and the Keys to the Gulf”— spending money as fast as he made it (Is that Jimmy Buffet music wafting in air?), tales of hard living, and more than one wild night, of storied local boats such as The Grey Ghost.
Another marriage—“Marriages don’t work out for me,” Lashley chuckles, “ but I‘ve got two wonderful sons.” He pulls out a photo of a handsome young man, pride in his voice.
One day, in the paradise of the Keys, it came to him. “I need some stability in my life. I need a regular, every day job. And I need that for the next 30 years.” So, once again, Harvey came home.
The City of Richmond Hill hired him on: general crew with a shovel at $5.25 an hour. Then driving the street sweeper at night. “ Yeah, 3 a.m. by myself, listening to music. It wasn’t bad! I loved it. But then a big raise came when the city bought one of the first automated garbage trucks and I was assigned to drive it.”
After a brief hiatus with a private company, Lashley got a call from the city to see if he would be interested in developing their new project, J. F. Gregory Park. Yes, he would.
“It was a wetlands, filled with debris and trash. We cleaned it up, cleared the land. I can lay my hands on just about every tree in this park and tell you about it,” he says. “But I made one mistake. We took down the pines. Wish we hadn’t done that. My daddy didn’t like pine trees and I guess I didn’t either. Pollen? I don’t know. But we can start planting them back. Maybe long leaf.”
Now almost 30 years with the city, his timing seems almost prophetic.
In those years, Harvey Lashley has stored memories of tress and people who planted them that no one else knows. His is called institutional memory.
He remembers Willie Houston, who moved a small live oak sapling from the back of the park in mid-summer. “ I told Willie that if that tree lived, I would eat my hat!” He laughs, looking at the towering live oak beside the road.
“That beautiful live oak over there, that one’s in memory of Marta Collins; she had an animal rescue place over there across Ford Avenue where the Station Exchange is now.”
Lashley recalls simpler times in Richmond Hill. He and friends had the run of the Ford property, hunting and fishing. Climbing the live oak at his Uncle Perry’ s house. “Its arms stretched out parallel to the ground for a long way, about eight feet off the ground. I would climb up there by myself and just sit. Don’t think anybody ever knew I was up there.”
“If you saw three cars in day coming down Ford Avenue, that was traffic,” he says.
“When I was a young kid, we moved to Hapeville, outside Atlanta, where my daddy found work in the Ford plant. But we always came home to Richmond Hill. To my grandma’s house. When I saw Spanish moss hanging in the trees, I knew we were close. That moss and those trees were signs of home.”
For a man who found his life’s work and meaning taking care of the trees of Richmond Hill, it seems like a fitting, silver-shot thread in the rich tapestry of Harvey Lashley’s life, his legacy to Richmond Hill for generations to come.
Patton is a retired teacher and a occasional writer for the Bryan County News and other publications.