By the Way

Nancy Reagan loved this Mississippi friend's rockers

ANITA LEE

calee@sunherald.com Twitter: calee99

Nancy Reagan enjoys her first time in a Harkins rocker, hand-turned right here in Mississippi. The Reagans were presented the rocker and other gifts in 1980 at the Neshoba County Fair while campaigning for the White House.
Nancy Reagan enjoys her first time in a Harkins rocker, hand-turned right here in Mississippi. The Reagans were presented the rocker and other gifts in 1980 at the Neshoba County Fair while campaigning for the White House.

My friend Greg Harkins makes some amazing rockers, and he's always been pretty good at getting his name out there.

Which is how he started making rockers for presidents, including Ronald Reagan. The Neshoba County Fair folks told Greg he could bring one of his rockers there when Ronald and Nancy Reagan came through during his 1980 presidential campaign.

When Greg arrived with the rocker, the fair folks said, 'Nevermind, we don't want it.' But Greg wasn't having any of that. He located the head honcho, who agreed the rocker could go on the stage where the Reagans  would appear.

The Reagans loved the rocker, of course. Pictures of Nancy Reagan in the rocker, and Nancy Reagan in her husband's lap in the rocker, circulated all over the world. Greg was just perturbed that the photos failed to mention this was an original Harkins rocker from the great state of Mississippi.

Nancy Reagan called his shop a couple of weeks later. Greg's mom, the lovable June Harkins, answered the phone.

"My mother thought it was a practical joke," Greg told me Sunday afternoon, "She said, “No, Mrs. Harkins, this is Nancy Reagan. I am at my ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif."

The Reagans wanted a couple of rockers for the ranch. Greg was invited to deliver them in person, but he was so busy with orders that he declined. The rockers were sent and, with all the publicity surrounding the big event, Greg is still sorry he didn't make that trip.

Greg made the Reagans a couple of more chairs after they moved to the White House: a double and a single rocker. This time, he delivered the chairs himself. He strolled into the oval office to wait on the president and he thought to himself, "Son of a gun, this office really is oval."

Reagan seemed distracted when he first walked in, but warmed up soon enough. Nancy Reagan was busy and didn't drop by.

Greg said he found out the next day that his visit coincided with the invasion of Granada, so that explained the president's mood.

With Nancy Reagan's death, Greg is once again seeing photos of the Reagans and his rocker. He just wishes the captions said this was a Harkins rocker.

Harkins rockers are hand-turned. The seats and backs are hand-woven. Not a nail in those rockers. How do I know?

Well, back in the day, when I was a young reporter at the now-defunct Jackson Daily News, Greg cadged me into coming up to Vaughan, Miss., where his shop was located, to do a story on him and his rockers.

He was such an entertaining guy, we've remained friends. He made me one of those beautiful rockers, from oak, when my daughter was born.

These days, I'm guaranteed to see him at least once a year, when he has a booth at the Peter Anderson Festival in Ocean Springs.

He's going to be mad at me if I don't tell you how to order a rocker. Call Greg: 601-201-1480.

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