A rainbow appeared over Laurens District High School the morning after the death of popular orchestra Paula Harshaw, convincing some that Harshaw had sent one final message.
Harshaw, 56, died on Oct. 26 from injuries she suffered in a three-car accident on Highway 221 in Laurens on Oct. 22. She was buried Monday afternoon in Newberry, leaving behind her husband Clinton “Clint” Harshaw, who is a Presbyterian College professor, daughters Vanessa and Morgan and sisters Melinda Jean Beeco of Anderson and Charis Burger of Greenville.
LDHS Principal Tina Faulkner said she lost a colleague and a friend who always had the ability to make her laugh.
“She and her children touched my life tremendously,” Faulkner said. “She kept me laughing, and as well trained as Paula was as a musician, she was normal. It was a beautiful thing to see her normalcy.
“She will leave a legacy here. She will be remembered at this school for a very, very long time.”
Harshaw had worked at LDHS since 2015. Her students have scheduled a memorial service and balloon release at 6:15 p.m. today (Wednesday) at the LDHS baseball field.
Faulkner said she believes that service will help some students and staff gain a sense of closure regarding the tragedy.
News of Harshaw’s death blindsided many of her students in the high school’s strings program. Former band director Andy Entrekin said students and colleagues knew of the injuries she sustained in the accident but did not suspect them to be fatal.
The school orchestra’s fall concert went on as scheduled on Oct. 26, and Burger, who had volunteered to direct and teach her sister’s classes for a couple of days leading into it, learned of Harshaw’s death just 30 minutes before the concert was to start.
That forced Entrekin to direct the orchestra. The students were gathered on stage following the concert and were told of her passing.
“We didn’t want the students to find out on social media,” said Entrekin. “We wanted them to hear it directly from us, so we all could support each other.”
For Entrekin, the chore was remaining composed while directing Harshaw’s orchestra. As the former director of the Raider Band, he said he understood the connections the musicians and formed with their teacher.
“Being an orchestra director, a band director or an athletic coach is different from other teachers, I think,” he said. “Coaches and those directors can have students for up to eight semesters, so seeing those students lose someone who had for years been building a relationship and closeness with was difficult.”
The next few days, students were allowed to mourn and offered the help of guidance counselors at the school, Faulkner said.
Entrekin said Harshaw came to LDHS at a perfect time to help grow the strings program there.
“She was very motherly toward her students,” he said. “The two directors before her were men and more like demanding father figures, so I think Paul fit perfectly at the time she was brought in. Her ability as a teacher and her ability as a human being in total is what made her so effective in the classroom.”
The Laurens County Coroner’s Office said Harshaw died of a Pulmonary Thromboembolism, a blood clot caused by blunt-force trauma she suffered during the wreck.
According to Laurens Police Lt. Scott Franklin, two vehicles – a Dodge Ram pickup and a GMC pickup collided on Highway 221, causing one to spin into oncoming northbound traffic and into the 2008 Ford Mustang carrying Harshaw and her two daughters.
In total, five people were involved in the accident, were entrapped in the vehicles and were taken to area hospitals after being extricated.
Harshaw was taken to Prisma Greenville Memorial Hospital where she later died.
Franklin said the accident is still under investigation.
In addition to her role as a teacher, Harshaw, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in music and violin performance at Converse College, performed across the region as a member of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, Greenville Symphony Chamber Orchestra, South Carolina Philharmonic, Spartanburg Philharmonic, Greater Anderson Musical Arts Consortium, Augusta Opera Orchestra and Brevard Chamber Orchestra.
She also performed often at First Baptist Church of Laurens.
Memorials are suggested to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Choral Scholars Program for Students, 1515 Boundary St., Newberry, S.C., 29108.