Gary L. Harris
A Lover and a Fighter
Gary L. Harris Ph.D., P.E., passed away on October 26, 2020. During his life, which began in Denver, Colorado, on June 24, 1953, he developed many loves and fought many fights—and won.
Raised modestly along with six siblings in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver by his parents Norman Harris and Gladies (Weeams) Harris, Gary explored science at an early age when he worked alongside his father learning Morse Code, using the Ham radio and repairing electronics.
He decided to pursue his interest in electronics at Cornell University, where he received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1975 and the M.S. a year later. Then in 1980, Gary broke barriers and became one of the first two African-Americans to receive a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering/ Electro-Physics from Cornell.
When Gary graduated with his Ph.D., he was among a small group of African-Americans in the country with a doctorate in electrical engineering. With his area of expertise in the growth of semiconductor materials—which was in high demand at this time of Silicone Valley’s infancy—Gary could have gone into a lucrative career in private industry. Instead, he made an intentional decision to pursue a career in academics at a Historically Black College and University, where he could help broaden the underrepresentation of Blacks in scientific higher education.
Gary believed deeply that it was his calling to prove anyone—even someone from humble beginnings such as his—should and could have the opportunity to achieve scientific knowledge at the highest level. He often said: “I chose to teach at Howard University, because I felt I could multiply myself here.”
During Gary’s 40-year career at Howard, he published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, edited five books, presented more than 200 papers at scientific conferences, brought in over $50 million in research funding, and mentored and advised the research theses and dissertations of more than 150 master’s and Ph.D. graduates in electrical engineering.
It was also at Howard where he met and married the true love of his life, Jennifer Dean, a native Washingtonian who was studying engineering and shared his quest for knowledge. She eventually went back to Howard and earned a medical degree and is now an ophthalmologist. The two became the proud parents of Jamie and Wesley, and Gary relished the unconditional love of fatherhood.
Gary was dedicated to the mission of Howard University and eager to support its goals in whatever capacity he could. He served in several roles throughout his distinguished career there: Dean of the Graduate School, Associate Provost for Research and Graduate Studies, Professor of Electrical Engineering, University Marshall, Director of the Material Research Center of Excellence, Associate Vice President for Research, Director of the Howard Nanoscale Science and Engineering Facility, and Director of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network.
Gary was shown much love for his contributions to teaching and research, including being bestowed with the Electrical Engineering Outstanding Teaching Award and the National Society of Black Engineers Scientist of the Year Award. In 2017, he was honored by his alma mater with the inaugural Turner Kittrell Medal of Honor. The award was established by Cornell University to recognize alumni who have made significant national or international contributions to the advancement of diversity, inclusion and equity in the academy, industry or the public sector. And in 2019, Howard University dedicated the Graduate School Research and Media Center in his honor.
As an ardent advocate for science education, Gary fought to expose the broader community at younger ages to science by designing and building the Howard University NanoExpress—a mobile scientific research laboratory—which has traveled to 20 states and has had more than 100,000 visitors. In addition, he organized Howard’s yearly participation in the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival since its inception in 2010. And because of his love of science, engineering and technology, Gary sought to spread that knowledge to an even wider audience with the two weekly news-talk radio shows he launched on XM satellite—“Homepage” and “Nano Talk.”
Science, wife Jennifer, and children Jamie and Wesley weren’t Gary’s only loves—he also held a torch for golf and travel. With his clubs always in his trunk and a special piece of luggage to carry them on a plane, Gary remained ready to hit a few balls or play a few rounds in whatever state or country he found himself in. But playing golf with his beloved club, The DC ProDuffers, was a perfect day for Gary, who began hitting them long in high school and never lost interest.
In the last couple of years, with both children out of college and all tuition paid, it was time for Gary and his wife to hit the ground traveling. They journeyed to Europe, South America, Central America and Mexico. Tickets were in hand for their next great adventure—Lisbon—when Gary’s illness caught up with him and slowed him down.
Cancer was Gary’s toughest fight ever. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2005 but battled back and beat it. Then in 2012 the cancer came back. Gary courageously waged war against the disease while maintaining a positive mindset until he succumbed on October 26, 2020.
Gary leaves to treasure his memory and honor his legacy his wife of 36 years, Jennifer Harris, and his pride and joy--daughter Jamie Harris, a writer in Los Angeles, and son Wesley Harris, a documentarian in New York. He is survived by siblings Rickey Harris, (Karen), Sophronia Harris, Pearl Harris, Marlean Dorsey (Ronald), and Norman Harris, Jr. (Jennifer)--all of Colorado--and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, friends and colleagues.
A Virtual service will be held on Friday, November 6, 2020 at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that we all take the time to help one another, perform random acts of kindness and leave this world a little better than we found it as Gary did throughout his life.
IN PERSON SERVICE IS FOR FAMILY ONLY, all other well wishers may view via the live streamed service.
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