UPDATE 1/2/14 @ 5:15 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- When it comes to power and influence in the state of West Virginia, few people stack up to James H. "Buck" Harless.
The Mingo County native, who made millions as a coal and timber operator, died Wednesday night at his home in Gilbert at the age of 94.
In the late stages of his life, Harless became a philanthropist, using his millions to help a wide range of causes across West Virginia. That includes in his hometown of Gilbert, where he helped build the Larry Joe Harless Center, a multi-million dollar community center in honor of his late son.
"I don't see why anyone wouldn't want to put money back into their own hometown," Harless told a WSAZ reporter at the time. "My hometown has been good to me. I made my money here, or a good part of it here. So why shouldn't I put it back here."
Friends say one of Buck's biggest passions was education. They say he was always giving back to schools, colleges and universities.
"His fingerprints are over most of the innovations that have taken places at universities colleges throughout the state," Stan Maynard said.
Maynard is the director of the June Harless Center for Rural Education, which helps provide support to educators and schools throughout the state.
"His belief was it was through education," Maynard said. "That it wasn't just money he could give children or families, but a better education. That's what he tried to do throughout his life."
Maynard says Harless also helped start the June Harless Hall of Fame in 2002. Every year, three individuals are honored for making contributions to education in the state of West Virginia.
"It's his impact, ultimately, on education in West Virginia will be the greatest long lasting impact of any individual that I know," Maynard said.
Harless also had a passion for politics. He often financially backed candidates and causes. In 2000, he was credited with helping George Bush take West Virginia, and eventually win the White House.
It's one reason why his life-size picture still hangs in the Republican party's headquarters in Charleston.
"It's quite legendary," WV GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said. "A lot of folks can single-handedly give credit to Buck Harless for George Bush becoming president. It was those five electoral votes in West Virginia which pushed President Bush over the top."
Harless started out as a coal miner in the Red Jacket area of Mingo County. He worked his way up, eventually owning coal operations and large timbering operations. He also ran the Gilbert Lumber Company, growing it into a multi-million dollar operation. Harless became the head of the board of Massey Energy.
Harless was elected into the West Virginia Coal Hall of Fame and the West Virginia Business Hall of Fame.
Toward the later part of his life, Harless shared his wealth with his community and state. He gave millions to Marshall University and West Virginia University and many other education concepts around our region.
Harless was also heavily involved in politics. He's credited for helping George Bush win West Virginia and the White House in 2000.