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Lowell Harris of Dade City spent his life helping out others

DADE CITY — Each day began before dawn. The white-haired man got out of bed and sank to his knees. He prayed for friends and family, anybody he thought needed it. He named each person. Some days the list was so long he was on the floor for half an hour.

Then it was off to the post office to retrieve mail for the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The rest of the day was spent volunteering for charities, organizing fundraising dinners or doing church work. Nights brought nonprofit board meetings.

Those who knew Lowell Harris were amazed at his energy, which continued until shortly before his death last week at age 76.

"I don't know when the man slept," said Natalie Brock, whose husband, Hutch, worked during his teenage years at Kiefer's drugstore, where Mr. Harris was a popular pharmacist. "He was a part of everything that was good in this town."

In addition to Habitat for Humanity, those causes included the Boy Scouts, First United Methodist Church of Dade City, Hernando Pasco Hospice and the Rotary Club. He also served twice on the Dade City Commission, leaving office in 2004.

Many of Dade City's leaders remember Mr. Harris from their childhood. He often showed up at school to lecture on the evils of drug abuse.

"He had a very unique story," said Ralph Cumbee, a former Boy Scout who now serves as scoutmaster. "He told us about a young man who'd overdosed on LSD; he took a butcher knife and carved himself up. It certainly made you think twice about taking LSD."

Born in Indianapolis, Mr. Harris ended up in Dade City after serving in the Army. His father had been transferred to the Orlando area so Mr. Harris and his wife, Patsy, whom he met at a soda fountain while at the University of Georgia, settled nearby.

When he wasn't working, he'd play host to church youth. With a pingpong table and plenty of soda, the Harris home became the popular hangout.

"He was a man who knew his neighbors and cared about them," said Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader.

His ability to befriend people quickly and cultivate relationships paid off when he was leading charity fundraisers.

"You didn't say no to Lowell," said Michael Rom, a former provost at Pasco Hernando Community College, who once wore a chicken costume at Mr. Harris' urging to help sell tickets to a Boy Scout chicken dinner.

Mr. Harris' son, Blaine, said there was no real secret to his powers of persuasion.

"He worked so hard to serve the community that when he asked you to do something, you felt lazy," he said.

What's truly amazing, he added, was how his father did all this with no technology.

"This was all done before social networking," he said. "This was all done face-to-face or on the telephone."

As a city official, Mr. Harris would often help opposing sides find common ground.

"He said it was okay to be a steamroller sometimes," said Hutch Brock, a lawyer who served with Mr. Harris on the commission. "But leadership is about bringing people together."

When the Harrises celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a few years ago, he told everyone he saw to come to the party. So many people showed up that extra places had to be set up in the lobby.

"That was just so Dad," said his daughter, Laura Caldwell of Athens, Ga. "He wanted everybody to share his joy."

Mr. Harris hardly slowed down when diagnosed with diabetes recently. He still met each day with friends at McDonald's, although he changed his diet.

But when he showed up at Caldwell's home for Thanksgiving, he seemed weak. After doubling over in pain at a basketball game, Mr. Harris went the next day to the doctor and then the hospital. Tests showed complications from a hernia. On Dec. 5, Caldwell and her husband drove the Harrises to Dade City. Two weeks later, Mr. Harris had an episode that left him unable to speak and his hands shaking. He went to recover at a nursing home and rehab center, where he was so popular that the staff had to put limits on visitation.

On Jan. 12, Caldwell got a phone call "at an odd time of day."

"We think your dad has had a massive stroke," her mother said.

Two days later, surrounded by family, Mr. Harris fell into a peaceful sleep. He never woke up.

At 10 a.m. today, friends and family will celebrate Mr. Harris' life at First United Methodist Church of Dade City, 37628 Church Ave. A reception in the church's family life center follows.

>>Biography

Lowell Alvers Harris

Born: May 26, 1934.

Died: Jan. 14, 2011.

Survivors: Wife Patsy Wallace Harris of Dade City; son Blaine and his wife Shannon of Lawrenceville, Ga.; daughter Laura Harris Caldwell and her husband Ray of Athens, Ga.; brother Ronald Harris and his wife Gail of Mableton, Ga.; sister Donna Parham of Neptune Beach; and four grandchildren.

Lowell Harris of Dade City spent his life helping out others 01/17/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 7:29am]
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