Curtis Harris passes due to heart failure
Published 3:42 am Wednesday, February 9, 2005
By By Lee Weyhrich
Friends and family have said he was a man with a big heart, now, somewhere, Curtis Harris is playing trombone.
Harris, a former city councilman, educator and musician passed away Saturday at the age of 88 as a result of heart failure.
Many people know Harris as a former city councilman. He served with two different mayors, including current Mayor Howard Shell and Mayor Rodney Owens and served with 12 different city councilmen, Shell said.
"Curtis Harris was first elected to the city council back in 1988 I think he served three terms all the way up to 2000 without any opposition," Shell said.
According to the Shell, Harris served his community inside and outside of City Hall.
"Mr. Harris was a very well loved citizen," Mayor Shell said. "He always had the citizens at heart in his decisions and he was involved in many activities. The city will really miss his knowledge and miss him as a friend."
Shell said that years after Harris retired he still came back to City Hall to visit.
"Even though Mr. Harris was out of city politics he often dropped by the mayors office for a cup of coffee and share his wisdom," Shell said. "We always knew he'd come in a good mood and make us all feel better by the time he was gone. He was the sort of fellow you always enjoyed being around, he was friendly and outgoing, had a great sense of humor and he always had a humorous story to share with you."
Harris' life was filled with enough stories to write a book. Harris went to high school with, and played trombone with Nat King Cole in Chicago.
Harris a Chicago native was given the chance to play trombone with many of the world's most famous musicians.
"A lot of these big bands would come into big cities and would get local people to play with them that didn't travel with them," Harris' wife Marcelete said.
To save money many Big Band Era musicians would tour with just the necessities and borrow musicians in the towns they played.
"One of the stories I've always enjoyed talking to him about is the number of great musicians he had been associated with in this lifetime and that he played with," Shell said. "Among them were Nat King Cole, Lila Hampton, Louie Armstrong, Cab Calloway and others that I can't recall."
Harris went to college at Alabama State in order to become an educator. During college he was involved in Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and studied music and mathematics.
"He finished from Alabama state and received his masters and BS from there," long-time friend and former city councilman Eldred Pritchett said. " He met his wife at Alabama State, she was from Atmore."
Marcelete said she is the reason he came to Atmore.
"He went to college at Alabama State, we met there and he finished there, and then he went back to Chicago and was drafted into the service," she said. "He played 186th Army Ground Forces Band touring all over the country and overseas playing for the troops during WWII."
Curtis and Marcelete were married on July 6, 1944 before he had to go overseas.
"He got me and carried me to Chicago, I stayed there for five years and then we came back to Alabama to Atmore," Marcelete said. "He was hired as a band director in Marion for four years and from there he came to Escambia County Training School. From there he went to Escambia High."
Harris taught in Marion from 1946 until 1950 when he moved to Atmore. Harris taught at Escambia County Training School until 1970 when schools in Atmore became fully integrated.
"He was a band teacher at Marion and he came here in '50," Pritchett said. "He taught math and band at the training school. His band (at ECTS) was always invited to play at Mardi Gras in Mobile especially for Fat Tuesday. They stopped going when they integrated."
Harris also stopped teaching math after the schools integrated.
"I don't think he taught math anymore after the school integrated, I think all his subjects centered around music," Pritchett said.
Harris taught at ECHS from 1970 until his retirement in 1978.
"He was a good father and a good husband and he was dedicated to the children he taught," Harris' wife said. "He touched their lives. He tried to teach them morals and he helped them and transported them to and from functions if they needed it."
According to friends and family he was very involved with his church and was a Deacon at Greater Mount Triumph Baptist Church as well as president of the seniors choir. He was a member of Progressive Civic and Recreational Club of Atmore and was a founder of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and he was the oldest member of that fraternity, Pritchett said.
Pritchett first came to know Harris in the early 1950s.
"Their twin daughters and one of my girls were born in the same year," Pritchett said. "Our families were always close. Our friendship goes back to our children being so close"
Pritchett served with Harris on the city council for one of Harris' three terms. "I went on the council in 1974 and I served with some of Atmore's finest citizens," Pritchett said. "I consider Harris to be among Atmore's finest community leaders."
Marcelete considered Harris to be a community leader as well.
"He was a member of the Retired Teachers Association of Alabama and the national association, he was a member of the Lions, the Veterans of Foreign Ways, the Foreign Legion and the chamber of commerce," she said. "He won the 50 years of service to Kappa Alpha Psi Award and the Kappa of the year award as well as a plaque for recognition from the city council District 3 for dedicated service."
Pritchett, Shell and Mrs. Harris all described Harris as a wonderful family man. Harris had a son and twin daughters. "We were married 60 years, on the sixth of July we would have been married 61 years," Mrs. Harris said.
Harris' funeral is set for 1 p.m. on Friday at Greater Mount Triumph Baptist Church.