A steady stream of well-wishers provided plenty of hugs and handshakes for John Harris, the first and only Disabled Student Services director at Middle Tennessee State University, during a special celebration Tuesday.
People kept coming to visit Harris, who was born blind. They were there for his retirement celebration in Keathley University Center. Harris, who turns 62 on Oct. 27, officially retired Aug. 15 after more than 27 years in the job he calls “the greatest thing ever to happen to me.”
Some attendees knew him from when he was an MTSU student in the mid- to late 1970s. Most had become acquainted with him while he worked at MTSU.
Even people from off-campus — folks like alumni Claire Summers and Toby Gilley — wanted to join John for his retirement party. Summers is a former supervisor of special education for Rutherford County Schools. Gilley is an attorney and Murfreesboro City Council member, plus he is a former Student Government Association president. Both had past associations with Harris.
All were coming by to pay homage to one of the most beloved and iconic people on campus.
To say that Harris, a native of Munford in West Tennessee, is special is almost an understatement. Around campus, he is treasured, revered and respected. If “Everybody Loves Raymond” (the TV show), everybody at MTSU really loves John Harris.
All you have to do is be around him one time. It makes for a lasting impression.
John has a glow about him, a persona that radiates throughout the room. When you meet him for the first time, after a few minutes, he makes you feel like he’s known you for years.
Oh, is he engaging.
Just bring up anything MTSU, his Blue Raiders or his Los Angeles Dodgers, and you won’t have to worry about the conversation dropping off for very long.
While he cannot see, he has vision that some of us only wish we could have. His foresight has carried Disabled Student Services to what it has grown to today — an office serving between 700 and 800 students with a variety of disabilities whether they are physical, mental, psychological, learning or other.
“John’s strength has been his ability to build effective relationships, not only with students, but with faculty, staff, parents, legislators and other professionals throughout the state,” said Deb Sells, vice president for student affairs and vice provost for enrollment and academic services. “He will be missed.”
Dean of Students Sarah Sudak said she “knows John is eager to see the program reach the next level, and we are committed to insuring his legacy continues to serve our students well.”
When asked on how he wants to be remembered, Harris said, “That I love the school (MTSU), that I gave everything I had every day I came to work and that I never wanted to leave work any day and say I didn’t try to help students that day.”
Always modest, Harris leaves on a humble note.