Walker Harris, a mainstay in the local business community, died Sunday at the age of 88.
A former mayor and CEO of Walker Harris Autos, Harris was a member of many local organizations such as Kiwanis, Lions and Elks clubs. He was a past present of the Newton County High Ram Booster Club and a former officer of the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association.
But Harris’ early life was difficult. Although his family worked hard and ran a farm in the Stewart community, both his mother and sister had diabetes and the cost of medical treatment and insulin resulted in a childhood without much money for Harris. But for all they lacked in material possessions, they made up for in hard work.
From boyhood, Harris worked. First on the farm and then, at the age of 14, as a cook and a carhop at The Alcove — a restaurant and dance club on Elks Club Road. Harris would go to school at Heard-Mixon, and then take a bus to Monticello Street, the hitch a ride from that point to go to work. The owners of The Alcove eventually got him a bed so that he could sleep there and then catch the bus to head to school the next morning. By the age of 15, they were so impressed by Harris’ work ethic that they allowed him to fill prescriptions at their pharmacy.
"He had the most incredible work ethic I have ever seen," said his son Tony. "His hobby was work and he just really l loved it."
Though most well-known for his work in the car business, Harris has many careers in his life. He was an auctioneer, had a bonding license, worked a laundry route and had an embalming license and, according to Tony, could fix anything.
Harris got into the automobile business by accident. Harris went to Macon to sell a car at auction. After selling it for more than he anticipated he bought another car with the extra money. Before he could finish the paperwork on that vehicle someone approached him and offered twice what he had paid for that vehicle.
"He had never made money that easy," said Tony. "He knew what he wanted to do then — he was on fire."
In the 50s — a time Tony calls the best in his father’s life — Harris opened a car lot on Washington Street where he stayed until 1967 before moving the business the U.S. Highway 278. That business would eventually become Walker Harris Chrysler Jeep Dodge. Harris also owned a paving business and a pinball/jukebox machine business at the same time.
"I remember that Sunday’s he would go and collect the money and replace records on the machines," said Tony. "I would go with him and we would end the day watching a baseball game at Stewart. That was what he did on his time off — he worked. He wasn’t comfortable if he wasn’t working. I know I’m biased, but I don’t know anyone who worked harder then him."
Harris’ health began to decline in 2002 after suffering a stoke and he officially retired, though according to Tony he would still go to auctions and make himself available.
"He was a very proud man and he hated to have anyone have to do for him. He was extremely independent," said Tony. "He may have retired but he never really left the business."
According to Tony, the family met for lunch on Friday at Stalvey’s and Harris was fine, but when he saw his father on Saturday he appeared "frazzled" and didn’t look well. He stayed in bed Sunday and when his wife Rosemary went to check on him she found that he had died in his sleep.
"I think my father’s greatest inspiration would be in his work ethic," said Tony. "He packed about four or five lives into one."