For Professor Emeritus and alum James R. Harris, BSArch ’63, BArch ’66, MArch ’71, giving to Washington University has been a way to pay tribute to a place he credits with changing his life, and where he has spent most of his adult years.
Originally from Columbia, Missouri, Jim discovered he wanted to pursue a degree in architecture while attending the University of Missouri. After visiting WashU, Jim became enamored with the campus and recalls his meaningful interaction with the dean of the School of Architecture. Jim’s father said he could attend WashU if he could get a scholarship—which he did.
“It was a half-tuition scholarship,” Jim says, “and that was enough.”
Jim enrolled at Washington University in 1960. Coming from a small town, Jim was thrilled to meet students hailing from across the country who shared his interests in academics and the arts. It was at WashU where Jim also met his wife, Carol Holman, AB ’63.
Coming in at the end of the Civil Rights movement and leaving just as Vietnam War protests were beginning, Jim remembers his time at WashU as life-changing for both him and Carol. After graduating and spending four years in military service in Germany, Jim and Carol returned to St. Louis. Jim got his first job in the architectural office of George Anselevicius, the dean of the School of Architecture, and quickly took on a shared, part-time position teaching design under Dean Anselevicius at WashU. Over the next several years, Jim progressed to part-time faculty, eventually teaching full-time and becoming Associate Dean.
Carol, who went on after her time at WashU to earn a certificate of elementary education and a Master of Arts in applied science, spent most of her career with Life Skills Foundation, helping people with developmental disabilities find work and live on their own, and ultimately served as the organization’s executive director.
“Carol was smart, insightful; she was a conversationalist,” Jim says. “When you talked to Carol,” he says, “you didn’t just get her opinion. You got a new viewpoint.”
In 2016, Jim chose to honor Carol, who passed away in 1989, by establishing the Carol Holman Harris Endowed Scholarship, aiding students with high financial need who are part of the 3-2 MSW program in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, as a part of his estate plan.
“She loved helping people,” Jim says of Carol. “She was moral and ethical and stood up for the right thing,” he says.
Jim also included a gift to endow the James R. Harris Scholarship, benefiting low-income undergraduate students in the College of Architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. Jim recalls being greatly influenced by Professor Leslie Laskey, and how Laskey shaped him as a teacher. From his time as a student, Jim learned to think like a designer, which he believes translates to many fields beyond just architecture.
“The goal was to produce creative, innovative people,” Jim says, which drove his desire to create his scholarship, hopefully helping more students attend WashU who otherwise could not.
Jim later met and married his second wife, Mary Giles, an accomplished basket maker and fiber artist. When Jim retired from Washington University in 2006, he and Mary moved to Minnesota, where Mary served on the National Artist Advisory Council of the Textile Center in Minneapolis. In 2013, Mary was named The Master of the Medium in Fiber by the James Renwick Alliance for Craft, and much of Mary’s work can be viewed in art museums around the country. After Mary passed away in 2018, Jim left Minnesota and returned to St. Louis, spending winters in Palm Springs.
Jim has now settled in St. Louis and keeps busy setting up his new home in the Central West End. He is about to embark on a new endeavor as a tour guide at the Frank Lloyd Wright house museum in Ebsworth Park. Jim looks forward to giving these tours and meeting new people who share similar interests in art and architecture.
Jim stays connected with many of his former WashU students across the country and occasionally visits with them in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. In 2019, one of those students made a contribution to Jim’s named scholarship in architecture in honor of Jim, citing him as a mentor, advisor, and friend. This gift prompted Jim to fully fund the scholarship during his lifetime, so he could have the opportunity to meet those students who would receive it.
Jim decided to relinquish his interest in several charitable gift annuities he had established through Washington University over the years that were designated to ultimately help fund the James R. Harris Scholarship. This allowed the funds to be put toward the endowment fund immediately, along with the former student’s gift.
Jim has also opted to use his IRA to give a portion of his required minimum distribution directly to Washington University each year to both his named scholarship and the Carol Holman Harris scholarship. By making these in-life, tax-free qualified charitable distributions, Jim’s scholarship was fully funded in 2022, and the first student has been awarded the scholarship for the past two years. Jim requests that students are aware the scholarship is sponsored by Professor James R. Harris and friends. The scholarship honoring Carol will be fully funded in a few short years and will begin to benefit Brown School students as well.
LIKE JIM HARRIS, YOU CAN SUPPORT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY THROUGH A PLANNED GIFT. PLEASE CONTACT THE OFFICE OF PLANNED GIVING TO LEARN HOW YOU CAN CREATE YOUR OWN LEGACY AT WASHU.