Lawrence Harris, who had careers as an American diplomat, an army officer and a college professor, visited 52 countries and every continent.
But the Roswell resident always returned to his roots. He was the son of Southern Baptist missionaries, raised in China during the 1920s and ’30s.
That background gave him a lifelong affection for Asia – his wife, Thelma Harris, is from the Philippines – a commitment to God and respect for the Baptist faith, said his family and friends.
His pastor, Ron Bradley of Roswell First Baptist Church, said Dr. Harris was “an ambassador for Christ” who had a “heart for the world.”
“Larry could pray the most beautiful prayers. He’d pray for the starving people in Darfur, and those with AIDS in South Africa. He had a way of broadening our view of the world,” Bradley said.
Lawrence Holiday Harris, 89, of Roswell, died July 2 at his home as a result of a weakened heart caused by an aortic dissection, his wife said. A memorial service will be Thursday at 11 a.m. at Roswell First Baptist Church, 710 Mimosa Blvd. Northside Chapel and Crematory in Roswell is in charge of arrangements.
Dr. Harris was a devoted Christian layman, and though just months shy of age 90, was still active in his church and community. The couple moved to Roswell five years ago after both retired from Savannah State University.
They immediately dove right into church ministries. It was Dr. Harris who organized the church’s Christian Military Fraternity, a service organization for military personnel and their spouses.
“This was his little brainchild,” said fellow member Duane Thacker of Roswell. “He just nurtured this thing along for two years, taking care of all the details.”
Members serve meals to service personnel at the Jean R. Amos USO Center at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and support local high school ROTC units, among other projects.
Dr. Harris was born in North China in 1920 to Southern Baptist missionaries from Mississippi. Though some of his childhood was spent stateside, he returned to China as a teenager and completed high school there at an American school.
His wife said he had distinguished careers in the military and as a diplomat.
The retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel had served with Gen. Patton’s armored division during World War II. His unit helped rescue troops trapped at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. His medals included the Combat Infantry Badge and the Bronze Star, Mrs. Harris said.
At the beginning of the Korean War in 1950, Dr. Harris joined the 1002 Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment serving with a mixed British-American Brigade in Italy.
Later he worked for the U.S. Department of State as an American consul in Hong Kong and in Manila. He also served as an Intelligence Research Officer specializing in Italian and Asian affairs.
He met his wife in Manila. She was a 20-year-old accountant and native Filipino. He was a 47-year-old American consul working at the U.S. Embassy. Her parents gave the marriage no chance to survive, but it lasted almost 40 years, Mrs. Harris said.
“Thelma and Larry went out to lunch every day,” said friend Ann Sullivan of Houston. “Even after they retired, they were still like young people dating.”
Their early married years were spent traveling the world on a floating university. Dr. Harris taught college students aboard a ship with World Campus Afloat. Mrs. Harris remembers it as a “great adventure.” They had a newborn baby, but no housework responsibilities. They saw countries and cultures that no longer exist.
“We got to see the old world, before civil wars destroyed these countries,” Mrs. Harris said.
Dr. Harris, who had a doctorate in political science, taught at numerous other colleges and universities. He retired after 19 years at Savannah State University as director of international studies and professor of history and political science.
He was interested in the history of his Baptist faith
and wrote an almost 800-page textbook on the origins and growth of the denomination, which he completed on his 80th birthday.
Other survivors include one sister, Cita Strunk of Weddington, N.C.; eight children: Lawrence Harris II, Tellico Plains, Tenn.; Susan Harris, Chattanooga; David Harris, Salt Lake City; Jon Harris, Bowdoin, Maine; Judith Harris, Weddington, N.C.; Ronald Harris, Virginia; Gerald Harris, Alpharetta; Larissa Pearce, Decatur; 19 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com