In Memoriam: Marvin “Ceree” Cecil Harden III

In Memoriam: Marvin “Ceree” Cecil Harden III
Marvin “Ceree” Cecil Harden III
May 4, 1953 - August 14, 2023

May 4, 1953 – August 14, 2023

Marvin Cecil “Ceree” Harden III passed away peacefully on Monday, August 14, 2023, surrounded by his family, after a private battle with ALS.

Ceree was a deeply beloved father, husband, brother, grandfather, uncle and friend. Not only an immense loss for his family and lifelong friends, Jacksonville lost a prominent business and civic leader and tireless community servant who made an indelible impact on the city he loved.

A native of Jacksonville, Ceree was born on May 4, 1953, to M.C. and Edith Harden. He and his three siblings grew up in the Northside and Arlington neighborhoods of Jacksonville. Born just 17 months apart and spending the majority of their lives living just a few miles from each other, he and his elder brother Paul nurtured a rare and enduring bond. Marv, as he was known in his formative years, graduated from Terry Parker High School where he forged lifelong best friends with whom he walked through all phases and seasons of life. He then made his way to the University of Florida, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with high honors.

Following his father’s sudden death, Ceree stepped in at 26 and took over Harden Insurance Services, the business founded by his father in 1953. Ceree expanded the company, later known as Harden, from a three-employee personal lines insurance agency to one of the Southeast’s most prominent independent insurance brokerage and consulting firms. Ceree’s guidance and mentorship paved the way for the growth and development of innumerable employees, fostering a deep sense of loyalty that led many to dedicate their entire careers to the firm, transforming Harden into not just a workplace but a second family for many.

A stalwart industry leader for four decades, Ceree recognized the changing tides of globalization and, with a focus on the well-being of his employees and clients, orchestrated the sale of Harden to A.J. Gallagher & Co. in 2020, a pivotal move that marked a new chapter in the firm’s journey. Today, Gallagher’s name remains at the top of a 13-story mixed-use tower that Ceree led efforts to develop in 2007, a testament to his visionary leadership in recognizing potential in the Brooklyn neighborhood adjacent to downtown, now one of the fastest-growing sub-markets in Jacksonville.

Ceree was proud of his Jacksonville roots, and in the spirit of a true servant leader, he dedicated much of his time and expertise to organizations that support critical needs of the community. His father, a founding board member of Baptist Medical Center, passed along his passion for quality healthcare in our community. During his 20 years of service on the Baptist board, he served as a board chair for Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville as well as secretary and treasurer on the Baptist Health System Board.

When Jacksonville needed a strategic leader to guide its growth and development efforts, they tapped Ceree to chair the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, where he conducted a reorganization that improved effectiveness and accountability, as well as developing a project evaluation matrix that is still used to evaluate projects seeking incentives today. A member of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce throughout his career, he served as Chamber chair in 1999 and chaired numerous committees, including Cornerstone, the economic development arm of the Chamber.

Ceree also chaired the Jacksonville Community Council’s Quality of Life Committee, served as the director and president of the Independent Insurance Agents of Greater Jacksonville, and served as the director and finance chair of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents. His dedication extended to his service on the boards of Jacksonville Port Authority, FPIC Insurance Group, Riverside Presbyterian Day School, Episcopal School of Jacksonville and The River Club.

Ceree’s remarkable journey earned him a place in the First Coast Business Hall of Fame, recognition as a Jacksonville Business Journal Ultimate CEO Award recipient, and leadership honors from the University of North Florida’s Coggin School of Business. He stood as an honorary member of Leadership Jacksonville and was bestowed the prestigious Hope Award, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s highest tribute for exceptional civic and community service.

By anyone’s measure, Ceree’s life was one of success and achievement few can match. But for him, family was his ultimate joy and motivation. He was especially proud of his children and would often share with others their successes and express admiration for the people they have become. He doted on his grandchildren and enjoyed his role of “Papa,” especially the hugs and special moments that came along with it. He strived to instill the same values and faith that shaped his childhood in his own children. That ever-present faith was always a guiding force in his life. In his last couple of years, he found a particularly deep solace beginning each day with scriptures and prayer alongside his wife, companion and caretaker, Shannon.

Ceree’s was a life well lived, just shorter than we wanted. His natural enthusiasm for people was the foundation for the success he found in life. If you had good news, he was the first to celebrate you; if there was a problem, he helped you find a solution; if you knew him well, he was likely to include you on a quail hunt or fishing trip, a Gator or Jaguars game (if you were especially lucky, a FL/GA game), a trip to the Masters or Kentucky Derby or a night of delicious food and exceptional wine in his home. He shared his joy of traveling with his big family – with especially memorable trips to Vancouver, Canada, the Tuscan countryside, and Sea Island, where he and Shannon were married. Fortunately or unfortunately, he also passed along his ability to just barely catch a flight. Although his travels took him far and wide, his treasured home away from home was his condo in Amelia Island where he experienced respite with a cup of coffee watching the sunrise or reading a novel. Ever an early riser, he eagerly greeted the day with a workout, a nourishing shake, a full 32 oz. Nalgene of water and a plan for the day. Hardly, if ever, was there a time when Ceree didn’t have a well-crafted plan.

Ceree’s legacy lives on in the hearts of his family, friends, and the city he so profoundly impacted. He worked to ensure that this city would be an even better place for those he loved to call home; he knew that they, in turn, would continue the family tradition of community stewardship. His legacy is in good hands.

Ceree was preceded in death by his parents, M.C.Harden Jr and Edith Harden Kerlin. He is survived by his wife, Shannon Stoddard Harden; his children, Christian Harden (Stephanie), Ansley Busch (Lawson), Blake Harden, Brooke Michaelis (William) and Maxwell Harden; his stepdaughters Kameron Anderson (Cody) and Jordyn Stoddard; his grandchildren, Miles Harden, Mackenzie Harden, Zoey Harden, Arlen Busch, Barrett Busch, Huntley Michaelis and Wells Michaelis; his step-grandchildren, Haven Anderson and Avery Anderson: his siblings, Paul Harden, Steve Harden and Donna Harden; his nephews Brandon Harden and Alexander Harden; and former spouse Kathy Plath.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the ALS Association in memory of Ceree. You can also honor him by following in his footsteps – where you see a need, get involved. Where you see a problem, be part of the solution. Be an example of servant leadership that he would be proud of.

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