Charles William Harles died peacefully early morning at home in Washington DC on November 15, 2019 surrounded by family and friends. He was 73 and is survived by his wife, Andrea; brother, Harry Harles; sister, Regina Haggerty; step son, Jim Lester, and many other relatives and friends. Charlie was born to Harry and Lee Harles in Rocky Mount NC and and raised there. He is known to his family and friends from Rocky Mount as “Bill”. Born with fibrous dysplasia which affected his bones, he dealt with multiple bone breaks and full spica body casts while growing up. Using crutches on a regular basis, he still participated in a variety of sports in high school and college by serving as the team trainer. He had more letters and stars on his sweater than anyone. He was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame at Louisburg College in 2017 as an Outstanding Alumnus.
Charlie greeted life with joy, humor, grace and compassion. He loved spending time with his family and friends. As a child he lived summers at Teachey cottage in Ocean Drive SC with his brother, sisters, cousins and friends. His grandmother ruled the roost like a sergeant, but with love, stories and great southern food. As an adult he valued opportunities to be with family and friends at the beach and later at his much loved “camp” in Maine. Through out his life there was always a great deal of joking, teasing, story telling, and laughing with those around him. Being teased by family early in life enabled him not to take his physical challenges too seriously or consider them as limitations.
Charlie attended Louisburg College and University of NC, where he received his BA and JD degrees. His first job after high school was working for Tri-County Industries where he served as a supervisor for a group of men with intellectual disabilities doing a job painting items. He quickly learned that they knew more than him. This lesson in humility served him well as he worked the rest of his life in creating more and better opportunities for people with disabilities through employment, federal policy, and research.
Charlie served as general counsel for Goodwill Industries International, employment and government affairs specialist for National Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, and was self employed as Harles & Associates. Early in the 1970s he joined with several other disability organizations led by Paul Marchand to establish the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. Operating together as a coalition was significantly more effective and efficient to create and affect federal policy for people with disabilities He was among the rehabilitation and disability policy advocates who worked in partnership with Congressional staff to write and pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. He worked to promote the concept of a partnership with businesses in the community to develop opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. Throughout his career Charlie traveled extensively to consult for and do training for state and local rehabilitation organizations. He traveled to all 50 states, and was much in demand.
Having a rare disease/condition can be isolating and leaves you with many unanswered questions. Through the early power of the internet and list-serves a small group of people with fibrous dysplasia, many of whom were connected through the research study led by Dr. Michael Collins at National Institutes for Health, met at the Harles’ house in 2000. While soaking in the hot tub the group determined to form an association to spread information about fibrous dysplasia for individuals and medical professionals. In 2004 the dream was achieved with the incorporation of the Fibrous Dysplasia Foundation. Charlie served as its president for the next 11 years.
Charlie was also known for his passion for photography and beer. Charlie and Andrea met when asked to create a photography display at church of their photographs of Congressional Cemetery. After they both determined that each had their own darkroom, they happily put it together. Their relationship developed from there. As married partners much of their social life centered in their membership in Christ Church + Washington Parish on Capitol Hill. Charlie also shared his passion for quality beer (later known as micro-brews) when he convinced a group of men from church to join him in brewing beer at a local do it yourself brewery. Now brewed in the Christ Church kitchen beer remains a staple at Christ Church events.
In working with organizations across the country and with his own community, especially Christ Church, Charlie was known for his perception and thoughtful contributions. He was equally valued for the gentleness, generosity and joy that permeated every thing he did. His last act was to donate his body to National Institutes of Health for further research on fibrous dysplasia and Lewy body dementia.
Funeral services will be held at Christ Church on Capitol Hill located at 620 G Street SE Washington DC, on January 11 at 1 pm. Donations may be made in his honor to the Fibrous Dysplasia Foundation. https://fibrousdysplasia.org/donate/