Greenwich mourns death of Mike Harris

As news of his death came in last weekend, tributes poured in for lifelong resident and former Greenwich Town Clerk Rowland D. “Mike” Harris.

Mr. Harris died at the age 91 while surrounded by family after what his son termed a brief illness. Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei was among the many who paid tribute to the former town official.

“I am sad to hear of Mike’s passing,” Mr. Tesei said. “Unfortunately we have lost another of our ‘greatest generation.’ Condolences to all the Harris family. God bless Rowland “Mike” Harris for his lifetime of service to our Country and his beloved Greenwich.”

Mr. Harris was born on April 19, 1923 in Greenwich, and was remembered for devoting his life to the town. He attended both Cos Cob School and Greenwich High School where he graduated in 1940. But his life was not just spent in Greenwich and he spent time serving in World War II. At the age of just 19, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served with the 96th Signal Battalion in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theatre of the war. His family remembered Mr. Harris as a “proud patriot.”

When he returned from the war, he worked as as an electrician for the former Electrolux Company in Old Greenwich but soon became a part of the industry that the Harris family has long been associated with in town insurance. He began working with the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company but eventually moved on to form his own firm with his brother Griffith. The Griffith E. Harris Insurance Company still stands today and the company is still known townwide.

His family was quick to note that Mr. Harris’s impact on the community wasn’t just in the office, though, as he also served as a town clerk for several years and volunteered with many community organizations including at St. Catherine of Siena Church for over 60 years. He also worked with the Cos Cob Fire Police Patrol Auxiliary for more than 50 years and with the Retired Men’s Association, Greenwich Hospital, Meals on Wheels, Glenville Seniors, Social Seniors, the American Legion and the veterans of World War II CBI group.

He served as town clerk for Greenwich from 1980 to 1991, running for office six times as a Republican. His family proudly noted that each time he ran he was the top vote-getter on the ballot.

“Mike Harris was a legendary ‘All Time Great Guy’ in our town and one of Greenwich’s finest citizens and civic servants,” said Mr. Harris’s nephew Griff Harris. “He was a special man and a legendary citizen who grew up on and lived on Valleywood Road, Cos Cob his entire life. More importantly, Mike was famous for being kind and ‘off the charts friendly’ with everyone he came across.  I’ve never met anyone that was more courteous, gracious and friendly than my uncle.”

And although Mr. Harris dedicated much of his time to his beloved town, Mr. Harris’s sons agreed, the most important thing in his life was spending time with his family.

“I don’t think they make men like my dad anymore,” said Rick Harris, the youngest of three sons. “He truly was an amazing man. He was a loving husband to my mom, married for over 66 years. They kissed good night and good morning; saying they loved each other every day, including the day he passed away.”

Rick said his dad was an amazing father to him and his brothers.

“No matter what it was, dad was there and he had the answers,” he remembered fondly, “even if we were in trouble and did something wrong.”

Rick said he is proud of the values his father instilled in him and will “continue to work towards being as great a man as he was.”

“I can only hope to be half the man that he was,” he said. “That being said, I have some big shoes to fill, but I’m going to work very hard on that goal.”

A wake was held at Knapp Funeral Home, 267 Greenwich Avenue, on Wednesday and a funeral Mass will be held today, July 31, at St. Catherine of Siena Church, Riverside, at 10 a.m. In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested donations to The Nathaniel Witherell.

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