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July 21, 2011

Obituary: Farris Harris Sr.


Farris Harris Sr., a former senior buyer in Purchasing Services, died June 24, 2011, of an apparent heart attack in his Penn Hills home. He was 74.

Harris worked at Pitt for 44 years, starting in the print shop in 1957 then moving to the purchasing department. He retired in 2001.

Former director of purchasing Jim Herring remembers Harris as a “quiet giant,” referring to his demeanor rather than his stature. “His presence demanded respect because he gave respect,” Herring said.

Former coworkers said Harris was a hardworking, quiet man who always was impeccably dressed and well groomed. “He was quite a gentleman,” Herring said.

Harris loved a good party, enjoyed playing cards, visiting casinos and going out for drinks. “He had a good time,” said Christine Pavone, a senior buyer who worked with Harris for many years.

Irene Selzer, another senior buyer, said although Harris was a very private man, he would at times speak of his son, Farris Jr., “his pride and joy,” who also worked at the University for a time. “Even though he wasn’t much of a talker, when he did speak in his baritone voice he got everyone’s full attention,” she said.

Pavone agreed that Harris’s deep voice was indeed commanding. “His phone voice would scare people to death,” to the amusement of the coworkers who knew him well. While Harris could sound stern with suppliers, “We would never tell that he was as meek and mild as they come,” she said.

Harris always paid attention to his appearance, coworkers said. “He was a meticulous man,” said Pavone. “He dressed to the teeth.” There was no such thing as a casual Friday for Harris. “He’d still come in wearing a suit, because he liked to go out on Friday nights,” she said.

Harris was among eight staff members who marked 40 years of service in 1997, receiving a certificate and an engraved gold watch from Chancellor Mark Nordenberg during that year’s long-term staff recognition reception.

Selzer remembered that Harris showed the watch to coworkers, but never again wore it in the office. When she asked him why, he told her that his mother “did not raise a fool; every time he wore it he received all kinds of attention and he wasn’t about to tempt any robbers,” so he wore it only on special occasions.

When Harris decided to retire, Pavone said, he was one of the department’s first long-time staff members to depart. “It was terrible to adjust to his not being there,” she said. “We were like a family, really close.”

In addition to his son, Harris is survived by his former wife, Audrey Louise Harris; two stepsons, and eight step-grandchildren.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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