One life af­fected many oth­ers

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - LOCAL - By KATE BEEM

Who: Sally Horne Har­ris of Loch Lloyd Age: 64 When and how she died: Jan. 9 of melanoma The early years: Sally Horne Har­ris grew up in Sag­i­naw, Mich., and stud­ied eco­nomics at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan. There, she met her first hus­band, Joe Wil­liamson. They moved a lot be­cause Wil­liamson was in the Army. Wher­ever they went, Har­ris taught high school math. While they were in Penn­syl­va­nia, son Brad was born. Three years later, in Ohio, daugh­ter Sheri was born. The fam­ily moved to Kansas City in 1974, when Wil­liamson be­came sales di­rec­tor at ra­dio sta­tion KBEQ. By then, their mar­riage was fall­ing apart. Har­ris be­gan think­ing about do­ing some­thing else. Strik­ing out on her own: Newly di­vorced, Har­ris de­cided to go to law school at the Uni­ver­sity of Kansas. Liv­ing on a tiny in­come, she moved her two chil­dren into a Lenexa apart­ment so they would be in the Shawnee Mis­sion School District and she would be closer to Lawrence. She bor­rowed from her fa­ther for school, pay­ing him back with in­ter­est once she grad­u­ated. It was a try­ing time, but her chil­dren didn’t re­al­ize it then, son Brad Wil­liamson said. Later in life, Brad Wil­liamson asked his mother how she man­aged it, and she told him that she knew it was tem­po­rary and that life would be bet­ter for the fam­ily if she could make it through those three years. Har­ris ex­celled in law school, passed the bar exam and took a job with the Over­land Park firm of Wal­lace, Saun­ders, Austin, Brown and Enochs, be­com­ing the firm’s first fe­male at­tor­ney and one of the first in John­son County. She even­tu­ally made part­ner and met her sec­ond hus­band, Brad Har­ris, who at the time was clerk­ing for the firm while in law school. The two mar­ried in 1980. Brad Har­ris said that when he en­tered the fam­ily’s life, Sally’s kids were 8 and 11 and very in­de­pen­dent. Brad Wil­liamson agreed, ex­plain­ing that his mother’s par­ent­ing phi­los­o­phy was to en­cour­age her chil­dren to own their lives and de­ci­sions. She en­cour­aged them to think for them­selves. Help­ing oth­ers: Sally Har­ris rose to promi­nence as a mal­prac­tice lawyer. She also served seven terms on the Kansas Board for the Dis­ci­pline of At­tor­neys. The fam­ily moved to Lea­wood and also had a home at the Lake of the Ozarks, in­dulging Sally Har­ris’ love of the wa­ter. They re­cently moved to Loch Lloyd. In 2008, Har­ris learned she had a rare form of sub­cu­ta­neous melanoma, a form of skin can­cer. The can­cer was ag­gres­sive, and Har­ris scaled back her le­gal ca­reer to fo­cus on treat­ment and other things. Sill, she needed some­thing constructive to do, so she sought out Lit­er­acy Kansas City, which pairs tu­tors with adults who are func­tion­ally il­lit­er­ate. Har­ris worked one-on-one with an adult stu­dent, meet­ing her twice a week for 90 min­utes. “It’s some­thing she got so much en­joy­ment out of,” Brad Har­ris said of his wife. Sally Har­ris fought her ill­ness with ev­ery­thing she had, even trav­el­ing to the Fred Hutchin­son Can­cer Re­search Cen­ter in Seat­tle for treat­ment. In the end, it was fu­tile, Brad Wil­liamson said. Even as she lay dy­ing, Har­ris had a list of things to fin­ish, in­clud­ing what to do about her lit­er­acy stu­dent, said Mark Ber­trand, Lit­er­acy Kansas City’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. Har­ris found the an­swer in her hus­band. He promised to fin­ish the job. Sur­vivors in­clude: Her hus­band, son and daugh­ter; four grand­chil­dren; her mother; three broth­ers; a niece; and four neph­ews. The last word: In one of her fi­nal calls to Lit­er­acy Kansas City, Sally Har­ris es­tab­lished a memo­rial fund in her name. Her obituary, which she wrote, urged friends and rel­a­tives to do­nate. The re­sponse has been amaz­ing — about $10,000 has come in, $25 and $50 at a time, Ber­trand said. “Ev­ery day we con­tinue to get checks,” he said. “She re­ally im­pacted a lot of peo­ple.” To sug­gest com­mu­nity mem­bers to pro­file, send e-mail to tributes@kc­star.com.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF THE FAM­ILY

A memo­rial fund in Sally Har­ris’ name so far has raised about $10,000 for Lit­er­acy Kansas City.

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