Thomas Harris, Jr. ’58
Thomas Harris, Jr. ’58 was born on September 23, 1932, to Thomas James Harris, Sr. and Elizabeth Gillespie Harris, in the small coal mining town of Blakely, Pennsylvania. His father was a coal miner, and his mother was a homemaker. Tom’s family relocated to Philadelphia when he was a child.
That is where he and his younger brothers, Robert and David, and younger sister, Sally grew up. He graduated from John Bartram High School, and then attended Hope College in Holland, Michigan, where he played football, baseball, and was a member of The Fraters fraternity.
He earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1958, and subsequently graduated from Western Theological Seminary, in Holland, Michigan, with a Master of Divinity Degree in 1961. He was licensed and ordained as a Christian Minister by the New York Classis of the Reformed Church in America in 1961. Tom lived in Harlem, in New York City, while he worked for the Board of World Missions, RCA, and planned to become a missionary.
While international politics delayed his visa to go to India, he met Barbara Lehmann. They married on December 1, 1962 in New York City. Tom’s international assignment was changed from India to Japan, and together, Tom and Barbara set out for Japan six months later, in the spring of 1963. Their first home in Japan was in Tokyo, while the two studied Japanese language at Meiji Gakuin University.
While there, they welcomed the birth of their first child, Peter, in 1964. Tom’s next assignment in Japan was at Kansei Gakuin University in Osa-ka, where he taught in the Commerce Division. It did not take long for the coaches of the university’s American football team to learn that Tom had played football in college.
Though he played Division III football, the perception was that this tall, burly American was a Division I All-American player. The coaches invited him to join their staff. He lived up to his perceived status, and his teams went on to win the national championship in back-to-back-to-back years. It was a mutually rewarding experience, and a highlight of Tom’s life.
In their time living in Osaka, Tom and Barbara welcomed their second son, Paul, in 1965, and their youngest child, a daughter, Kimberly, in 1967. Their five years in Japan were some of the most wonderful years of Tom and Barbara’s life together. After his return to the States in 1968, with his young family in tow, Tom accepted a call to Hillsborough Reformed Church, in Millstone, New Jersey. He served as pastor for the congregation until 1978, before serving as a pastor at United Reformed Church in Somerville, New Jersey.
In 1980, the Harris Family relocated to Stony Brook, New York, on eastern Long Island, for Tom to accept a call to be pastor of Christ Community Church. He and Barbara spent the last 18 years of his professional life serving that congregation. Over the course of his career, Tom served two terms as President of the Reformed Church’s General Program Council, which is a national position within the Church.
Tom also served as R.C. Murphy Junior High School football, boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball, and baseball coach in the Three Village School District, Stony Brook, New York, for the majority of his years on Long Island. Tom was named Man of The Year by the Three Village Times, the local newspaper, in recognition of his service to the community as a pastor, counselor, and coach.
On his retirement in 1998, Tom and Barbara relocated to Denver, Colorado, where all three of their children had married and settled. In retirement, Tom continued to offer his pastoral assistance within Reformed churches in Denver, and in other pastoral care roles, such as being a community grief counselor in the aftermath of the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999, and being a volunteer chaplain at area hospitals. Tom’s last pastoral role was serving the members of Mountain View Community Church in Denver.
Tom continued to find great joy and purpose in his profession, long after his official retirement. He gave his last sermon, sitting in a chair with his congregants seated around him, just eight days before his death. A few of Tom’s favorite pastimes were reading The New York Times from cover to cover every day, watching sports on television – especially football and baseball, and engaging in a deep philosophical conversations about world affairs, American politics, or sports. He was well-versed and passionate about all of them!
The highlight of Tom’s retirement was the wonderful gift of living near his children and grandchildren, and seeing all of them on a regular basis. They were his pride and joy. Tom is survived by his wife of 53 years, Barbara, his three children, Peter and Paul Harris, and Kimberly Harris Kundahl, his ten grandchildren: Jacob, Jackson, Samuel, Nicholas, Nathan, Bianca, and Peter Harris, and Katharine, Caroline, and Harrison Kundahl. He is also survived by his sister, Sally Harvey, of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, and 17 nieces and nephews.