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Whistler philanthropist dies in plane crash

Microsoft visionary crashes in Montana



Whistler has lost one of its most philanthropic American friends.

Jeffrey Harbers, the brains behind the first version of Microsoft Office, died in a plane crash in Montana last weekend, leaving behind a devastated young family and a void in the Whistler community.

"He was a believer in Whistler," said friend Doug Forseth. "He was positive about Whistler, built his home here and spent as much of his wintertime here as he could. It’s a huge loss."

Harbers died Saturday afternoon when his plane crashed shortly after takeoff from the airport at Big Timber in Montana. He was 54 years old.

The former Microsoft executive was a low-key second homeowner who seemed to click with the resort community. He played an instrumental role in giving back to it.

In 2002 Harbers, along with a handful of Americans connected to the resort, co-founded the American Friends of Whistler, a non-profit organization committed to philanthropic works in the community.

"He really got that organization on its feet and it is what it is today as a result of his hard work and efforts and generosity," said fellow AFOW board member Bill Kunzweiler.

"He worked relentlessly to make it what it is today."

In a few short years the AFOW has donated more than $160,000 to local charities. Most recently it gave $50,000 to the Whistler Health Care Foundation for an ultrasound unit to help doctors and nurses provide more timely and accurate diagnoses for patients.

The group focuses its charitable work in three areas: health and human services, the arts and culture and the environment.

The organization has given to Maurice Young Millennium Place, Whistler Community Services Society, the JJ Whistler Bear Society, the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group, and the Community Foundation of Whistler.

"He truly was a friend of Whistler in every way," said Kunzweiler.

Harbers was also very active in charitable work in the United States, where he had homes in Montana and Medina, an upscale Seattle suburb.

Former Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, who helped the AFOW get off the ground, said Harbers was a person you could count on. He stepped up to the plate as the first president of the organization to make sure it got off to a strong start.

"Jeff kept a pretty low profile but was always someone you could go to ask for help with community projects," recalled O’Reilly.

On a personal note, Forseth described his friend as very caring and generous. He was also an ardent skier.

"He loved to be out in the mountains and he was out there as often as he could be," said Forseth.

"For all the things he had in life, he was not afraid to work for others and share with others. We were fortunate to have him as long as we did."

Harbers is survived by his wife Renee and his two young children.