John Harrington is being remembered for his wit, civility and his love of politics.
Harrington died Monday night at age 67.
He was elected to the Hastings City Council in 2006 and served until 2018, including as council president in 2017 and 2018.
Harrington represented the Third Ward and central Hastings. For most of his tenure he served along side former Councilwoman Kathy Duval, who also represented the Third Ward.
“He was definitely one of the best friends I have ever had,” Duval said. “He was one of the smartest, wittiest, cleverest men I’ve ever known. He was such an asset to the council. He always made the council think differently, look at issues in a different way. He was one of those guys who, even if you disagreed with him it was OK. After the meetings things just moved on and it was all right and you don’t see that a lot in politics any more.”
Funeral service information is pending.
When Harrington retired from the Hastings City Council he had recently been diagnosed with cancer, which Duval said was in remission at the time of Harrington’s death. She said he also was dealing with heart, galbladder and other health issues.
His grandfather owned a cow/ calf processing plant in Franklin and his father H.W. “Bud” Harrington owned a feed lot in Grand Island and one in Hastings.
Harrington, who had cerebral palsy, grew up in Grand Island, but went to Hastings College, graduating in 1974 with a degree in Political Science.
He managed the two feedlots for six years before taking a few graduate level history courses at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln.
Harrington started his own consulting business, Feel of the Market, in 1982, 408 N. Minnesota Ave., putting out a weekly newsletter of the same name.
He was also the chief livestock analyst for the Data Transmission Network.
Duval went to Hastings College with Harrington. Duval estimates they had been friends at least 40 years.
Serving in the same ward, Duval and Harrington lived just a few blocks apart.
“We would have so many conversations at his house about meetings that were upcoming and afterwards and why each person voted the way they did and what the issues were,” she said. “He loved the city. He loved being on city council and he loved politics and trying to figure out how to move the city forward. That was his joy in life, I think.”
Harrington and his wife, Barbara, recently sold their house and relocated to a smaller home in Hastings.
In addition to politics, Duval said Harrington liked religion and theology, and how to make Christianity part of one’s life caring for others.
“That was extremely important to him,” she said. “He was involved in many book groups and teachings and study of that sort.”
She said his involvement at First Presbyterian Church was important to him.
Among those who participated both in Harrington’s book clubs and his Bible studies was former councilman Phil Odom who also was elected in 2006 and served until 2018. Odom was council vice president while Harrington was president.
“John was, in my mind, a brilliant gentleman with a great personality and great sense of humor,” Odom said. “If you were speaking behind him he was a very hard act to follow.”
Harrington made great contributions to any conversation, he said.
Odom, who also is a member of First Presbyterian Church, said Harrington read a lot of Biblical commentaries.
“It was always interesting when John was around because he had great insight,” he said. “He certainly seemed to know and understand the Bible.”
He and Harrington were not always on the same side when it came to council issues. For instance, Harrington was one of the most vocal proponents of Ordinance 4473, while Odom was one of two council members to vote against it. Ordinance 4473, which was passed in spring 2017, and amends city code, dealing with department heads, duties and responsibilities of the city administrator and outlines the duties of the utility manager.
The ordinance added the utility manager to the list of all other city department heads, including city administrator, under the mayor and council’s authority. The utility manager then would report to the city administrator instead of reporting to the Hastings Board of Public Works.
“The thing I liked about John was that we each seemed to be able to express our views on the side we were coming from and always walked away as friends,” Odom said.
City administrator Dave Ptak said Harrington was a “rock solid council member.”
“Hastings lost a great leader,” he said. “John was probably one of the most intelligent and witty fellows that I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. When he spoke at city council meetings, he didn’t do it often, but when he spoke people really listened. He was a leader. He didn’t let his disability affect him or his outlook. He was a friend, I’m so proud to say that. I enjoyed John in so many ways.”
He also participated in Harrington’s book club and was also part of a group who met for steak lunches at Murphy’s Wagon Wheel on Tuesdays.
Harrington was a fan of Ptak as well. Harrington told the Tribune in an interview before leaving office he thought the hiring of Ptak as city attorney in November, 2013, was one of the council’s major accomplishments during Harrington’s time in office.
“That’s very kind of him to say,” Ptak said. “I guess the jury might still be out on that. I certainly enjoyed John in every respect.”
Former city administrator Joe Patterson didn’t know Harrington before he was elected to the council.
“We just hit it off,” he said. “John was a pretty liberal thinker. I tend to be a little more conservative, so we just enjoyed the debate back and forth on issues. For having to deal with all of his physical limitations he was probably the most positive thinking, gracious person you’ll ever meet.”
The leadership Harrington showed on the council was phenomenal, Patterson said, and Harrington was probably the best writer on the council as far as his ability to articulate a position.
“He didn’t talk a lot but when he spoke, people heard every word of it because he really thought things out before he spoke,” Patterson said.
Patterson visited Harrington in the hospital a few times in the past month and it seemed like Harrington was getting better.
“He was truly a civic servant,” Duval said. “He lived a life of service more so than most people that I know and he did it with such finesse, with that quick wit, understanding and sharp intelligence.”