Today, we pause to honor the life of Dr. Percy Harris, whose countless contributions to our community made Cedar Rapids a better place. Dr. Harris, who died this week at the age of 89, inspired many through his steady leadership and service to others.
We admire him for many reasons – for overcoming discrimination, for enlightening others, for promoting education and civil rights. We respect him and his late wife Lileah for their solid 63-year marriage and their partnership in raising twelve children who are upstanding citizens and successes in their own right. And we honor him for his role as a physician who consistently demonstrated medical excellence and personal integrity.
Dr. Harris embodied the values that define The Ghosh Center – putting patients first and treating every patient as a human being. When he retired, the Gazette described him as a man in step with the latest in diagnosis and treatment, but traditional in the way he cared about the emotional and physical health of patients. He would always spend a few extra minutes or hours caring for both needs. A patient at the time agreed, saying “He’s more than our doctor. He’s our friend. He’ll be missed.”
He’s more than our doctor. He’s our friend. He’ll be missed.
Over the course of his career, Dr. Harris established his own practice, worked at St. Luke’s and Mercy Medical Center and served as Linn County medical examiner. He was the first African-American chief of staff at St. Luke’s, where he was responsible for bringing cardiac catheterization and open heart surgery to Cedar Rapids. He was also the first African-American member of the Iowa Board of Regents.
Like Dr. Ghosh, Dr. Harris was a humanitarian who actively reached out to others in need. In 2000, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church presented Dr. and Mrs. Harris with its first “Who is My Neighbor?” Award based on the story of the Good Samaritan. In 2013, Dr. Ghosh was presented with the award for “his compassionate heart and devotion to doing what is right no matter the cost.”
Recognition of Dr. Harris’ achievements extend beyond Iowa to the national level. In 1999, Senator Tom Harkin paid tribute to him before the United States Senate with these words: “Dr. Harris is one in a long American tradition of medical practitioners who put patients before profits, who lead by example, and who dedicate themselves to the well-being of humankind, from their community to their nation.”
Last year, Dr. Harris’ story was captured in the book, A Healing Presence in Our Community: The Percy G. Harris Family. The book can be read online or downloaded for free. You can learn about both Percy’s and Lileah’s amazing lives, see pictures over the years and view a timeline of events. We think you’ll be as inspired as we have been and encouraged to carry kindness forward in their honor.