Bryce Harris: A Look Back at Age 99
by John Shearer ’78 and Barbara Kennedy
Byyce Harris has now been retired from Baylor for 35 years – longer than a typical teacher teaches. But the 99-year-old former interim headmaster and chair of the math department is still enjoying life.
As he reminisced recently from the Signal Mountain home he shares with his wife, Josephine “Betty,” who has already beaten him to age 100, he points to furniture he has built over the years, including a grandfather clock, and says he enjoys weaving on a daily basis. His mind is still sharp; in fact, perhaps only a slight hearing impairment would keep him from going back into a math classroom and taking up where he left off.
The son of a schoolteacher from Middle Tennessee, Harris came to Baylor in 1938 and followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Thomas F. Harris, who taught English at Baylor and was the head tennis coach.
Harris has not forgotten interviewing for the Baylor job with the late headmaster Herb Barks, Sr., while a very young — and noisy — Dr. Herb Barks, Jr. ’51 was also in the room.
Harris would one day occupy that office, but first he had to serve in an office in Washington, D.C., for Uncle Sam. During World War II, he was one of six Baylor teachers who enlisted. Putting his analytical skills to work, he and another man studied Japanese anti-aircraft operations and tried to figure out how American naval pilots could fly safely into danger zones. It proved to be a safe assignment for him as well.
“A gun was never pointed at me, and I never pointed a gun at anybody,” he recalled. “I fought probably the safest war on record.”
But he was struck with an arrow of the Cupid variety. Through an acquaintance where he lived, he met his future wife, who was from Philadelphia. They had one son, David ’66, a longtime Baylor teacher who retired this year. (See more about David Harris on page 6).
After the war, the elder Harris continued teaching at Baylor, helping with the tennis program and other sports. But it was through his academic and administrative skills that he left his biggest legacy. He became such a respected math teacher that he served on the College Board committee that prepared and graded the math section of the SAT college entrance exams. He served as head of the math department, chair of the guidance committee, and dean of studies. He was a proponent of tighter entrance standards at Baylor, and in 1969, he was one of five faculty members selected by Board chair J.T. “Jack” Lupton ’44 to serve on a committee that was charged with determining whether Baylor should continue with the military program. One year later the school not only dropped the military program, but also Headmaster Charles Hawkins announced his resignation. In 1970 Harris became interim head at a tumultuous point in the school’s history. Uncertainty about the school’s direction and about the next headmaster led to low morale, and not surprisingly, Harris did not care for the stress of the job and wanted to get back to teaching. “I was offered the head job, and I told them I wouldn’t have this at any salary,” said Harris.
Looking back, Harris said he enjoyed his time at Baylor overall. “I worked with people I liked, people I enjoyed.”
The Bryce Harris Scholarship Fund
Kaitie Sims ’12, who will attend Carson-Newman this fall, is the latest recipient of the Bryce Harris Scholarship. The scholarship provides partial tuition for qualified day students entering ninth grade, who have a genuine interest and proven ability in math or science. For more information on how you can honor Bryce’s legacy while opening a door of opportunity for a talented young person, contact Matt Lewis ’74 at (423) 267-8506, ext. 387 or firstname.lastname@example.org.