Harry Groff Lefever

LefeverHarry Groff Lefever, 85, longtime resident of Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood, on February 3, 2017, at home in Athens, Ga. Harry was born on December 7, 1931, in Lancaster, Pa., where he grew up with Quaker neighbors. He studied at Lancaster Mennonite High School before earning a bachelor’s from Eastern Mennonite University (then Eastern Mennonite College), a master’s from University of Chicago, and a doctorate from Emory University. He married Esther Peachey in 1954, and in 1956 they traveled to Vietnam with a team from the Mennonite Central Committee, coordinating some of their work with American Friends Service Committee projects. They worked with a medical team and organized workcamps and seminars with Saigon University students until 1959. He taught at Eastern Mennonite College from 1963 to 1966, when he began teaching at Spelman College.

In the early 1970s, Harry and Esther moved to the Candler Park neighborhood of Atlanta, Ga., and began attending Atlanta Meeting, attracted by the meeting’s witness against the Vietnam War, draft counseling, and efforts to help refugees. While Harry spoke of missing the music and rituals of his Mennonite faith and thought Quakers gave too much emphasis to mysticism, he joined the meeting and served in several ways, including as a member of the History Committee.

A caring father and grandfather who was committed to living simply and conscientiously, he led the Candler Park effort to prevent a freeway from dividing the community. In 1981 he traveled to India to study history and the development and influences of religion. He lived in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, for nine months gathering information and recording oral histories for his first book, Turtle Bogue. He also visited Japan, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Burma, the Middle East, Nicaragua, San Andres, Providencia, and Europe.

His interest in civil rights and its movement’s impact on Atlanta led to two more books, Undaunted by the Fight and Sacred Places. He also wrote As Way Opened: A History of Atlanta Friends Meeting, 1943–1997. When Harry shared his spiritual journey, he said, “Life is a pilgrimage with many intersections. We make the road by walking. I kept moving and the road opened before me.” He retired from Spelman in 2003 as professor emeritus, although his love for teaching and the academic environment led him to teach there part time until 2009.

Harry is survived by five children, Kristina Lefever, Carla Lefever, Erika Lefever, and Dimitri Lefever; three grandchildren; a brother, Paul G. Lefever; and two sisters, Ana Hershey and Alma Weaver.

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