Valerie Harper's Ashland childhood recalled
Valerie Harper, star of the TV show “Rhoda” and a regular on “Mary Tyler Moore,” is being remembered on social media for the years in the late 1940s and early ’50s when she was growing up in Ashland and attending Lincoln Elementary and the junior high.
On the history-oriented Facebook page “Ashland Oregon, Then & Now,” some 50 locals recalled snippets from her time here.
Monte Wallace posted, “She was so funny without being gross. Love you Rhoda. RIP. Thanks for all the laughs.”
Geoff Eastman said his mom took dance lessons with Harper.
Kay Kreuger wrote, “Oh, no, her niece and namesake worked at my mom’s bakery for years.”
Rob Pardee said, “My mom remembers her from school.”
In a 2016 obituary in the Mail Tribune, her brother Don Harper was noted as a lover of car racing and the father of namesake Valerie Fowler, then living in Central Point. It said he and the family left Ashland about 1951 — and that Don returned to Ashland, “the home he loved as a boy,” when he was 24.
Tasha Schaal, who married Harper's first husband Richard Schaal after he and Harper divorced in 1978, says the three became one big family. Tasha says Harper was generous, kind and funny, and "we'll miss her so much."
In her memoir, “I, Rhoda,” Harper recalls a simpler Ashland of the ’50s with brother Don.
“Mom took Don and me to the Ashland roller rink several times a week. In the beginning, I skated around the rink, holding Don up until my arm ached. In a matter of months he was skating past me like a bullet. Don was as addicted to racing as much as I was to performing.
“Living in Ashland was wonderful — a small-town American idyll complete with a stately old library and a party line on the telephone. I was even a baton twirler on the school drill team (and) I made friends easily.”
Mandy Humphrey said Harper in adulthood visited the junior high for an assembly. Perry La Mar Hoy posted that front-page coverage in the Tidings was like “you’d have thought royalty was visiting.”
“Valerie was awesome and so funny.” Terri Beck said. “I met her in high school. Very fun and pleasant lady.”
Jodi French said, “Oh, I’m sad to hear this. I loved her! So funny and beautiful.”
Harper played the best friend and colleague of Moore on the ’70s hit “Mary Tyler Moore,” as it presented complex characters and situations featuring women who were independent and led self-guided lives, in contrast to the usual story of women who were adjacent characters to a husband or powerful male. Moore died in 2017. Harper died Friday of brain cancer.
Her co-star Ed Asner eulogized, “She was a beautiful woman, a wonderful actress, a great friend. ... Her brilliance burst through and shined its light on all of us.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.