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Harper leaves legacy for Natchez

NATCHEZ — Natchez lost one of its most recognizable characters Thursday, but the causes Reuben “Buzz” Harper championed will live on for decades, his friends said.

Harper, who died after a short battle with cancer, first came to Natchez in the 1970s.

An antiques lover, Harper soon got involved with historic properties in Natchez, owning over the years, historic homes Wigwam, The Burn, The Arrighi House, the Prentiss Club and Ravennaside, among others.

But it was Harper’s original work to turn Wigwam into a bed and breakfast that changed the future of Natchez, Historic Natchez Foundation Director Mimi Miller said.

“He introduced the B&B industry to Natchez as an all-year industry,” Miller said. “In a sense this town had always done it for pilgrimage, but he turned it into a luxury B&B business.”

Harper “had wandering feet,” though, close friend Ron Riches said, and lived for stints in New Orleans, Charleston, S.C., New York and Savannah, Ga., owning 28 houses over the years.

“Natchez was his mental home,” Riches said.

It was the contacts and friends Harper made around the country and even globe that had an indirect impact on Natchez, Riches said.

“Just him being in Natchez would bring people in,” Riches said.

Harper also found a way to get outside investors financial help with Natchez projects, such as the Festival of Music, an event Harper helped create years ago.

Harper connected with the Richard H. Dreihaus Foundation from Chicago in 2008 to secure a $30,000 donation to the event.

“He had so many legions of friends around here and around the world,” former Natchez Mayor Tony Byrne said. “Buzz was certainly very moving in Natchez.”

But it was his personality, kind heart and knack for the card game bridge that might stick around in the memories of Natchezians the longest, friends said.

“He had a smile that was just always on his face,” Riches said.

People noticed when Harper entered a room, Riches said.

“Buzz was a magnet when it came to people,” he said. “He was very charismatic, very gracious and very charming. He never had a bad word to say about anyone.”

Living in Natchez off and on for 40 years, Harper owned antiques stores, in addition to his ventures in local real estate. He also worked as an interior designer.

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