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Faces of Baylor: John Harrison
Janie Pippenger

When I first started writing “The Faces of Baylor,” I always planned on having my last piece be about John Harrison ’84, Baylor's Director of Institutional Advancement. 

John was born with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and dealt with its effects for 55 years. It eventually resulted in the loss of his vision in March of 2019. Once his daughter, Beth Harrison ’19, graduated, John (who lived five minutes away from me) started to ride with me and my little sister, Marguerite ’23, to and from school every day. 

Over the year John had ridden to school with me, he shared stories about everyone and everything you could think of. Whether it was a faculty member, student, or the Queen of England, he had a story and friendship with everyone I could imagine. This also made him my secret source for everyone this series has covered and the reason I started writing these articles. But Sunday, Nov. 22—exactly one year from when he gave his Thanksgiving speech in chapel—John passed away. I’ve been thinking about this article for two years, wondering how I was going to fit in all of his stories, whom I will quote, what I want to ask him—but his obituary beat me to it. 

I could list John’s achievements and jobs, but that information is already out there. Throughout this series, I have written about people at Baylor, but John was more than just his job at Baylor; he carried with him a spirit and love for this school. He was a part of the Baylor community for a large group of people, including me. John first came to Baylor as a boarding student from Atlanta and found his way back years later when he started working here. Every day he turned my Volvo into his classroom, my sister into his secretary, and me into his chauffeur/informer of any news around the school. Although I was trapped in the “classroom,” I think of John’s lessons when I’m faced with a decision.

One lesson John taught me was to never be a victim. John changed his lifestyle to adapt to losing his vision, but he didn’t allow losing his vision to change his life. He was amazing at his job; every year he’d set a goal of money to raise for Baylor, reach the goal—while also setting a new record— and then proceed to break that record the next year. 

John became one of my best friends. His youthful soul shined through his failing body. He turned my little sister into his sidekick. She would disappear from our house only for us to find her down the road talking to John. Although I’ve thought about this article for a while, I am unable to put into words the impact that John Harrison had on our family and the Baylor community. However, John’s sidekick, Marguerite, was able to, and this is what she said: 
 

“No series of words, collection of sentences, or combinations of poetic lines could possibly begin to explain the impact that John Harrison had on Baylor and the people who fill it.

My sister Janie and I had the privilege of driving him to school each morning. Those 30 minutes each day filled with laughter, blind jokes, and serious debates about politics made my morning. It was hard having two teenagers in the car and one adult. It was hard on Janie to be the adult. Getting doughnuts and coffee each morning and after school slushees really put a wrench in Janie’s tight homework schedule.

The way John talked about Baylor made me want to go every single morning and soak in every minute of my experience there. He would tell us funny stories of the hilarious pranks he played on the teachers and his roommates in Lupton. He would ramble on about how lucky we were to go to school there each day. How lucky he was to go to work there each day.

John was completely blind. His kidneys were failing and he attended dialysis three days a week. All of the odds were stacked against him. John, being 6’10 (literally) stepped over those odds and went to work each day with the best attitude. John loved being at Baylor. He loved Lydia Bohannan coming and talking to him all of the time. He loved those whom he worked with and his view out of his office window. John loved being back at Baylor.

John taught me many things about life. My biggest take away from all of his teachings would be to enjoy it. Enjoy being at Baylor. Enjoy your friends being too loud in the library. Enjoy going home to your family and dogs. Enjoy life. John enjoyed life. He was one person whom I could go to for anything. I would do anything for a text that says “sent by Siri” from John or just to hear a bizarre story about his teenage years. But unfortunately, I can’t. But I am enjoying thinking about how I was able to receive texts from John with the assistance of Siri and hear his mischievous pranks. I am enjoying the memory of John.”


 

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