Watch the Virtual Memorial
On Sunday, February 21, 2021, Helen Leslie Harkness, PhD passed away in peace with her family only days shy of her 93rd birthday, leaving behind a celestial legacy of love, countless acts of kindness, and wisdom through the discovery of living your best life path.
Dr. Harkness was an entrepreneur, career consultant, writer, speaker and researcher. She was a pioneer in the field of career development and the author of four books, all penned after age 67. Through her lectures, workshops and counseling sessions, she provided more than 10,000 people with an ageless perspective on meaningful and profitable work in an evolving career climate. She inspired everyone from all walks of life to create careers they were better suited for, and that they loved.
And Helen practiced what she preached. Her own career shattered the ageist myths about vocation and longevity, demonstrating her proclamation that “functional age is more important than chronological age.” Helen believed – and showed through her actions – that the best anti-aging strategy is to identify your purpose and pursue it with passion and a plan. As Helen would say, she “walked the talk,” operating her business until age 91. In her final years she was dedicated to education reform, founding a nonprofit to help young people better understand themselves and design their lives with intent. She exuded ambition and curiosity throughout her entire life.
Helen was also a futurist and long-time member of the World Future Society. She efficiently coordinated the career counseling sessions at the organization’s annual conference for many years. Her intellect shined through her humor and intuition, exhibiting her innate ability to connect with people.
All of her interests served her life’s purpose. Helen loved trees so much that she turned her 7-acre property into a tree farm resembling that of her beloved childhood home. She also had a keen knack for nurturing a variety of houseplants, which kept her spirits high and vibrant even until her final days. Her house was open to individuals who were willing to put in the work to truly redesign their lives in the beautiful environment she created. As she often said, “I am a grower, I grow trees, and I grow people.”
A child of the Great Depression and a true matriarch, Helen listed her mother as the person she most admired. Dr. Harkness was the youngest of eight. She grew up in a lively household on her family farm in the West Virginia mountains. Always a lover of learning, she went away to college at the ambitious age of 16 and never ceased reading, thinking, writing, intuiting, and doing. She received her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Speech and English from Columbia University and West Virginia University.
A natural educator, as soon as she received her undergraduate degree Helen became a very enthusiastic high school teacher, particularly passionate about instructing theatre. As her professional life evolved from teacher to professor, taking her from the mountains of West Virginia to California and eventually to Texas, her love of the importance of theatre never waned.
Helen married in the 1950s and eventually moved to Garland, Texas to raise her three children, John, Ann, and Jane. During that time she continued to be a beloved teacher and professor at schools and universities throughout the Dallas area. After years of volunteering her strengths as a wife and mother and to her community in Garland – including the cherished Nicholson Memorial Library – Helen honored her ability to listen to her intuition and redirect her life, going on to earn a PhD in Adult/Higher Education and English from The University of North Texas. She founded her groundbreaking career consultancy, Career Design Associates, Inc. at age 50, which she presided over in Garland, Texas until 2019.
Helen was preceded in death by her son John, her eight siblings, and her parents, John and Ivery Jane. She is survived by her daughters Ann and Jane, her son-in-law Scott, her grandchildren Milo, Bonnie, Leslie, Lucas, and Laura, her dear extended family in West Virginia – the Leslie clan – a myriad of beloved friends, former students, and clients, and the many trees she planted for the future.
In lieu of flowers please plant a tree in Helens honor, or donate to the Texas Tree Foundation.