Chiropractic lost one of its greatest champions on Sunday, Nov. 9, when William M. Harris, DC, passed away after 69 years of dedicated service to the profession.Dr. Harris is perhaps best known for challenging the profession to raise money for chiropractic education and related causes, and then matching those contributions with substantial donations of his own. Among his most notable philanthropic endeavors were the matching-funds campaign to help launch the "From Simple Beginnings" chiropractic television documentary in 1995 and millions in donations to chiropractic colleges, many of which have buildings bearing his name.
Born in Opelika, Ala., in July 1918, William Harris knew that he wanted to become a doctor of chiropractic after seeing his father recover from a serious illness under the care of a DC. He graduated in 1938 from Palmer College of Chiropractic and practiced in Albany, Ga., for years, where he also hosted a radio show promoting the benefits of chiropractic care and was involved heavily in the local business community. According to a family-placed notice in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution following his death, Dr. Harris actively encouraged members of the Harris family to enter the chiropractic profession - and many listened: more than a dozen now practice in Georgia.
Dr. Harris was one of the original practice consultants in the chiropractic profession. In the 1970s, he established business management seminars that eventually grew into Practice Consultants, Inc. Over the years, many chiropractors learned how to manage their practices by attending his seminar series.
While his chiropractic practice and consulting business generated substantial income, Dr. Harris was not one to hoard the fruits of his labor. In 1978, he established the Foundation for the Advancement of Chiropractic Education (FACE), funded through his consulting firm. Now known as the William M. Harris Family Foundation, the nonprofit organization has donated in excess of $11 million to chiropractic education and research.
In 1995, the Chiropractic Centennial Foundation produced "From Simple Beginnings," a one-hour documentary chronicling the first 100 years of chiropractic. When the project exceeded its initial budget, Dr. Harris was one of several parties to step in and help generate the funds necessary to bring the project to fruition, donating $300,000 through FACE and challenging the chiropractic profession to match his donation with an additional $500,000. His efforts proved more than successful, and the documentary aired in March 1996.
Dr. Harris' financial investment in chiropractic education and research is legendary. The Logan, Northwestern, Palmer and Texas Chiropractic College campuses all have buildings bearing his name, the result of substantial donations:
- In the late 1990s, when Logan College of Chiropractic began making plans for an on-campus sports and wellness complex, Dr. Harris issued a $50,000 fund-raising challenge. FACE matched the funds, helping the college succeed in its campaign to raise more than $600,000 for construction of the complex, known as the William M. Harris, D.C. Sports/Wellness Complex.
- When Texas Chiropractic College (TCC) began construction on a 16,000 square-foot administration building in January 1998, Dr. Harris issued a $250,000 fund-raising challenge to the chiropractic profession. FACE matched the funds, allowing construction to proceed as planned. On Aug. 4, 1999, TCC announced the formal dedication of the William M. Harris Administration Building.
- During Palmer College of Chiropractic's annual Lyceum in 2003, the Palmer Center for Chiropractic Research building was dedicated to and named after Dr. Harris and his late wife, Jo, in recognition of their contributions to the chiropractic profession, including his donation to the Palmer capital campaign. The research facility is now known as the William and Jo Harris Building.
- On June 22, 2007, Northwestern Health Sciences University broke ground on the much-anticipated Wolfe-Harris Center for Excellence, a three-story, 48,000 square-foot facility that houses the university's research division, the Wolfe-Harris Center for Clinical Studies, and other departments/offices. Dr. Harris gave more than $2 million to the university, including a $500,000 challenge grant. The Center for Excellence opened in September 2008.
Dr. Harris also played a key role in the restructuring and rebuilding of Life University in Marietta, Ga. With the university on the verge of losing its accreditation in 2004, Dr. Harris' foundation provided the necessary funding to help attract and retain a new president and executive staff while regaining the trust of existing and prospective students. His leadership on the Life Board of Trustees also helped ensure growth and financial stability at the university, which had proposed selling the campus in April 2004, faced with declining enrollment an estimated $31 million in bond debt.
In a statement on the Life University Web site, Life President Guy Riekeman, DC, paid tribute to Dr. Harris and his contributions to the chiropractic profession:
"The man in the red cap, Dr. Harris was widely recognized in our profession as a philanthropist who made many significant donations to our colleges and professional organizations. His Foundation for the Advancement of Chiropractic Education alone is credited with directing $11 million into research and chiropractic education. Certainly he helped pull Life University back from the brink, and his subsequent work within the Life Board of Trustees has been invaluable.
"But beyond all his tangible contributions, this fine man, who was both kindly and determined, has left us a legacy of the spirit. For so many decades he has exemplified chiropractic's commitment to humanity. In my mind, he will always stand as an icon representing the best of what we in this profession stand for and can rise to become. He was a great friend to me and I will truly miss him, as will so many others."
Dr. Harris is survived by a son, Tom Harris; a daughter, Beverly Logan; as well as a granddaughter and grandson. A private memorial service was held at the Harris family home, and as of press time, a larger memorial service was scheduled to be held on Nov. 20 in the Life University auditorium.