A Key West legend who for years shared details of an international legend's life with tourists and locals alike is being mourned and celebrated by friends and former colleagues today.
Larry Harvey died peacefully Wednesday morning at the age of 91 at the Key West Rehabilitation Center following complications from a stroke, said close friends, who take some comfort from knowing that during the last month of his life, he entertained visitors in his hospital and convalescent rooms, keeping up his spirits as best as he could to the end.
Harvey, a former educator and world traveler who came to Key West nearly 40 years ago, spent most of his years on the island in various capacities at the Ernest Hemingway House on Whitehead Street, spinning stories of the great writer's life and times, sharing flakes of Papa's life that he had collected during voracious study of everything he could get his hands on.
That's according to the site's general manager, Jacque Sands, who said word of the loss, despite a month's worth of knowledge that Harvey was ill, "devastated" workers there.
"It has rocked our day today," Sands said. "He was so much a part of every one of us here. ... When he was a tour guide, there was not enough information he could get as to what Hemingway's life was, as a man and a writer, right up to the end. He could answer anything about Hemingway, dates and times. Hemingway was a man's man in that period of time and had a presence about him, and Larry enjoyed all of that about him."
Though perhaps not as well traveled as Hemingway, Harvey had done his own share of globe-trotting, with a good deal of time spent in England and France, according to friends.
Harvey, most frequently seen in a trademark Panama hat, was a native of Harrisburg, Pa., and became a teacher of English and history, mostly at boarding schools. After inheriting some money, he left teaching and began traveling the world, said a close friend, Tommy Ruppel, known in recent years as the guy behind Harvey's wheelchair, as he accompanied him on many local jaunts. Harvey's partner of 30 years, Alan Ferguson, resides in the rehabilitation center where the local legend died, Ruppel said.
"They were pretty much inseparable," he said.
Ruppel was a frequent visitor to Harvey's Victorian-decorated apartment in a little Conch house on Fleming Street, the centerpiece of which was an old English-style tapestry.
While the Hemingway House was close to his heart -- along with the place's legendary six-toed cats, all of whose names he knew -- Harvey was also known for his high baritone voice. Pianist and singer Bobby Nesbitt said Harvey was a star here years ago. Almost to the end he would appear with Nesbitt at Aqua on Duval Street, belting out show tunes like "Cabaret" and often starting the set with a classy "I Only Have Eyes For You."
"He lit up the room," a shaken Nesbitt said Wednesday night, as he headed to the club for a hastily scheduled memorial to Harvey.
He was also well-known at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where he helped at charitable functions -- as he did throughout Key West -- and also sang the song "The Friendly Beasts" each year during its Christmas program.
Sands said Harvey's devotion to the Hemingway House was so strong that one night in the hospital, according to what a nurse told her, he woke up in an excited state and said someone had to get his clothes, that he needed to go there. He had expressed concerns during his hospitalization that his job was in jeopardy.
"I told him, you will always have your job, Larry," she said.