Earl Leon Harris, 84, entered Heaven on Saturday, November 16, 2019. In his last days, he was surrounded by all six of his children (Susan, Gregg, Mauri, Staci, Doug, Donna) and his soulmate and wife of 64 years, Edythe S. “Tissy” Harris along with his beloved pets, Black Cat and White Cat.
Earl was born on October 13, 1935 to Melvin and Eva (Childers) Harris at home, located at the intersection of Falkenburg and Buffalo Avenue (now Martin Luther King Blvd) in Mango, Florida. He was the oldest of three boys born to Melvin and Eva. Most of his school days were spent at Mango School and Brandon School. He was preceded in death by his two younger brothers, Melvin Brady Harris and Jack Randall Harris.
Those that knew our father from youth and throughout the rest of his life say the things that they remember the most are how hard he always worked and never gave up and his big generous heart. They also remember that Daddy always had a twinkle in his eye and the look of a mischievous little boy. He and his brothers were known for their quick wit and their love of good times. Those things stayed with him throughout the rest of his life just as it had for his brothers, his father and his uncles. It is the Harris way.
Mama and Daddy knew each other in their childhood and began to date at the ages of 13 and 15. They became the definition and perfect example of love, devotion, being soulmates and being ONE. Mama always brought a special brilliant sparkle to Daddy’s eyes right up to his final days.
On January 5, 1953 Dad joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed in the Mediterranean and was a veteran of the Korean War. He spent his military days on the aircraft carriers U.S.S. Roosevelt and U.S.S. Bennington. He was a survivor of one of the worst peacetime disasters of its time, the May 26, 1954 explosions of the U.S.S. Bennington, where he lost many friends and comrades. Daddy did not speak of it much until his later years. He was a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.
During his time in the service, he raised a lot of cane and had many good times and stories to tell. But he also received stacks of love letters from Tissy. He decided that it was time to put a ring on her finger which he did at The Colonnade, Tampa’s popular drive-in restaurant. He pulled around back and popped the question right next to the dumpster. And they were married on September 3, 1955 at the home of Tissy’s grandparents, A.R. and Edith Trammell, on Country Club Drive in Tampa.
Earl was a long-time resident of both the Tampa area and the Ocala area, which is where he was the owner/operator of Harris Dairy Farm in Oak for many years. And it is where he and Mama raised their family for the most part. That is where we learned Daddy’s hardcore work ethic and determination as we watched him go years without a vacation and where 18-20 hour workdays were the norm.
It was also on that farm that we learned firsthand and saw the effects of our father’s big, soft, giving heart. He had a special compassion for women and children. He was always very giving to our mother and her friends and family. Many times if Daddy thought one of our friends may not have a new dress for a special occasion, he’d buy them one. He was always very considerate of his workers’ families. Santa Clause always came to our house on Christmas Eve. It took us a few years to figure it out, but he just wanted to be sure that his workers were home on holidays. So he just worked them all himself. When a new baby came home from the hospital, Daddy would go shopping alone and deliver a truck full of groceries and anything he saw that a baby or a new mother may need. Many times, Daddy gave people a place to live or helped them get a vehicle. If he saw a need, he wanted to help.
We also watched our father work very, very hard in order to give the way he did. He worked seven days a week year after year. Nothing could stop him. When he broke his arm or dislocated his shoulder, he’d simply tie a rope around his wrist and tie it to the truck door. Then he would kick the door shut and that was it. His arm was set and he was back to work. And when the doctor told him that he was so sick that he needed to be hospitalized, he worked. He was unstoppable.
After the six of us were grown, he became employed by the USDA as an inspector. And that is when life really picked up for Earl and Tissy. He was traveling all over the country for work. And at the same time he was either shopping for Mama or scouting out places to take her. He had worked such long hours for so long that any time off was like a vacation.
Daddy took up woodworking. Anything Mama wanted, he’d build it. He built many other pieces of furniture for us and his grandchildren. He had huge year round gardens of vegetables, herbs and flowers. He could grow anything. He loved gardening, woodworking, fishing and shopping for Mama. But, most of all, he loved dancing with Mama.
Around the age of sixty, he became very serious about dancing. They practiced in the living room, they practiced at local senior centers, hoedowns, restaurants, VFW’s and American Legion Halls. They traveled to and danced at many of the finest ballrooms around the country. Some of their favorite dancing spots were the Nashville area, the Atlanta area, North Carolina and Tampa, Florida. But his favorite, by far, was The Indiana Roof Ballroom where they danced to the Guy Lombardo Orchestra. And they returned to The Indiana Roof several times. During the height of their dancing, they danced between two and five times a week.
When the time came that they were no longer able to travel or dance, Dad became very active in his church, Buchanan Baptist Church. He still stayed very busy in his workshop, keeping an immaculate yard and tending to his vegetable garden. And he was still getting okra until the day he passed. In fact, the six of us should all be expert okra growers at this point. We would take turns picking his okra daily and bringing them for him to inspect along with occasional pictures of his plants. He would then tell us when and how to water, clip, dust and fertilize. And we all enjoyed tending to the okra with Daddy in his final months. And yes. His okra plants produced later in the year than anyone else’s and produced far more okra than we could have imagined. Daddy had a way with all living things, but especially plants and animals.
Most of his life his dog was his best friend. And he could teach a dog most anything, although, his dogs were usually spoiled rotten. After the passing of his last dog, Priscilla, he decided not to get another dog as they were getting older and he didn’t want to leave a dog in need of a home.
He was becoming pretty lonely without his dog when out of nowhere two cats wandered into his yard and found his soft spot. He named them Black Cat and White Cat and they became the most spoiled cats you have ever seen. Nothing could come between him and his cats! We often joked that the darn cats meant more to him than all six of us put together. But he trained us very well and we helped him spoil them during the last year. And Black Cat and White Cat were by his side until the very end.
Daddy was a regular donor to the Humane Society, the American Cancer Society and many others. During his last year he became a huge fan and supporter of the Tampa Mayhem Rugby League. The players arranged for him to come to a ballgame while he was very sick. They would visit him and sit with him during hospital stays. They brought him jerseys, a game ball and milkshakes. He could not praise them enough. What they did for him meant a lot to him and was much appreciated.
There were three things that Daddy insisted on doing himself until he absolutely was not able. These things were doing all of the shopping, going to the barbershop alone and doing his own banking. He had become fed up with big business, corporate America and big banks. He was old school and expected to be treated as a person and not a number. And that is exactly how they treated him when he came across the Apex branch of SunTrust Bank in North Tampa. They quickly all became his friends, not just his bankers.
He could not go a week without going to the bank. He would go to the bank even if it were just to say hello and catch up with his friends. They talked about money, family, gardening, travel and many other things. After he became too weak to get to the bank at all, he would send us and make sure that we had updates on his friends. And while we were at the bank, they would all ask for an update on Mr. Harris. Thank you, “Brooklyn” and the entire Apex branch for your help, support and concern for our father.
Daddy laid out all of his wishes before he passed and we are following his direction in the final arrangements. At his request, there will be no service or celebration of life until he is joined by our mother and they are dancing in Heaven. At that time, their ashes will be together and placed at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida.
In lieu of flowers, donations in honor of Earl Harris can be made to the Tampa Mayhem Rugby League
at Venmo: @TampaMayhem
or PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you all for your condolences and love. Our father will be missed by many. But he will especially be missed by his loving wife, the six of us, his 19 grandchildren and his 11 great grandchildren.
~ The Harris Children
"ENTRUSTED TO OUR CARE"
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