By Fred Woods
Dr. William M. Harris – “Uncle Bill” to Bob, Bert, J.T., and Jim Harris – was born on the family cotton farm, just outside Opelika, in 1918, younger brother to John T. Harris. The farm has been in the Harris family since before the Civil War. “Uncle Bill” still has many relatives living in the Opelika area, including Bob and Bert – whose mother, Eleanor, was also in the area until she died last week on her 102nd birthday.
The Harris family is noted for maintaining its roots to the home place, holding reunions, birthday celebrations, weddings and many other family events there, and “Uncle Bill” was no exception, returning to the Opelika-area home of the Harrises several times a year until his death in 2008.
William grew up, as all the Opelika Harrises did, working on the family farm and learning the value of hard work. During his teenage years, however, he committed to the study and practice of chiropractic after seeing a Dr. Ezell of Birmingham cure his father of a serious ailment after medical doctors had given up.
Harris graduated from the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, and practiced for many years in Albany, Ga., before moving to Atlanta in later years. He was widely acclaimed, both in the United States and abroad, as a philanthropist, doctor, educator, lecturer and elder statesman to the chiropractic profession.
B.J. Palmer, the acknowledged developer of chiropractic and president of Palmer College of Chiropractic, under whom Harris studied, authored 36 books, only two of which were dedicated to chiropractors.Harris was one of the two.
Palmer personally inducted Harris as a Fellow of the International Chiropractic Association during its annual convention in 1958. Harris was the very first southerner to be so honored. Other professional honors included a number of honorary doctorates and “fellow” awards from most of the leading chiropractic colleges, Chiropractor of the Year (by the Parker Resource Foundation) and Humanitarian of the Year (Georgia Chiropractic Association). Harris was also a member of the Board of Directors of Life University in Atlanta, Ga.
He was also active in Lions International, the well-known civic club, serving in various offices in his local Albany club, as chairman of the Board of Governors for Georgia Lions International and, later, as an International Lions Counsellor. He was honored with the Melvin Jones Humanitarian Award, named for the founder of Lions International.
Due in part to his own struggle with the business side of chiropractic practice, Harris was determined to do something to improve the business management skills of younger chiropractors. To this end he established, in 1978, the nonprofit Foundation for the Advancement of Chiropractic Education (FACE), initially to fund the creation and perpetuating of chairs of practice business management in chiropractic colleges.
More recently, the foundation has funded chiropractic research projects and construction of academic buildings and research centers. FACE has contributed more than $15,000,000 to these various projects (and several charities since making these eligible for grants in 2007). In addition Harris, through the foundation, was instrumental in contributing $300,000 to the Centennial Foundation in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of chiropractic in 1995.
The foundation changed its name in 2007 to the William M. Harris Family Foundation, making changes so that various charities could be included in the grant program. The Harris Family Foundation now serves more than ten charitable organizations, as well as chiropractic institutions.
Not a bad legacy for a man who spent his boyhood years chopping, hoeing and picking cotton on an Opelika-area cotton farm.
One of the most recent charitable grants was a $5,000 award to Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County to support a homework help and tutoring program for youth.