Businessman Paul Harper, husband of state senator, dies aged 79

Nashville businessman Paul Wilson Harper, husband of state Sen. Thelma Harper, has died at age 79 “after a year of slowly declining health,” reports the Tennessee Tribune.

From his early adult years as a service attendant at I.T. Creswell’s on Jefferson Street at 14th Avenue North, to business training at Exxon Corporation to manager of Exxon and Gulf oil stations to an award winning franchise owner for Phillips 66 for more than a decade, Harper was on a roll not just at the gas pump.

As his career progressed, he became active in efforts to promote Black business in Nashville and could always be counted on to help those in need along the way.

“I knew him as a work alcoholic,” said veteran Nashville barber Vernon Winfrey, echoing many others asked to describe Paul Harper. “He was an upright outstanding man,” said Winfrey. “He was  a man among men.”

…A celebration of life” memorial for Harper  was set for Thursday of this week at Schrader Lane Church of Christ on Schrader Lane, the church of which he and his long time spouse, Senator Thelma Harper, were active members. Lewis and Wright Funeral Home was making the arrangements.

…Visitation with family and friends will be held at Lewis & Wright Funeral Directors from 4-6 pm on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. Funeral will be held at Schrader Lane Church of Christ, 1234 Schrader Lane, Nashville TN on Thursday, March 29, 2018. Visitation from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm followed by funeral at 12:00 noon. Interment to follow at Greenwood Cemetery.

…Beginning in 1989, BP Oil, with which he had developed a long relationship, decided to close his gasoline franchise near 28th Avenue North and John Merritt Boulevard, near the campus of Tennessee State University (TSU). Not only would the franchise be closed, Harper would not be offered another BP outlet.

When more than a year of letter writing and cordial business like exchanges failed to even get a dialogue with the BP decision makers, Harper decided to sue over BP’s decision to drop him. In a federal lawsuit, he asserted it was because of his race.

With the legal assistance of Phillip Lester North of the law firm North, Pursell & Ramos, Harper won his argument in the federal district court in Nashville in August, 1995. In his ruling, Judge John T. Nixon declared BP “engaged in purposeful racial discrimination” against Harper and allowed his lawsuit seeking $60 million to be heard.

BP appealed Judge Nixon’s ruling to the United States Court for the Sixth Circuit. It lost the appeal. The final amount awarded Harper is not known.

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