Leslie G. Harris was born in the tiny (and since resettled) community of St. Joseph's, Placentia Bay, which in its time produced master mariners, and banking skippers and crews, in numbers out of all proportion to a population that seems never to have exceeded 300 souls. The community also produced one university president.
He attended the all-grade school there, graduating with a Grade 11 diploma, and then made his way to Memorial University College emerging in 1945 to begin his career as a rural school teacher. He taught at Harbour Buffett, not very far from his birthplace, and subsequently at Port Hope Simpson on the southern coast of Labrador, at Bell Island, Badger's Quay in Bonavista North, and then in St. John's where he became principal of Brinton Memorial School.
Dr. Harris received a BA in education from Memorial University, and his graduate studies there earned him an MA in history. A Canada Council fellowship brought him to the University of London, England, where he obtained a doctorate in Asian history, following which he was appointed director of a tri-college co-operative program in Asian studies at Sweet Briar College, Randolph-Macon Women's College, Lynchburg College in Virginia, USA, and of the summer institute in Asian Studies at the University of Virginia. He returned to Newfoundland to become assistant professor and later head of the history department of Memorial University, and in turn dean of arts and science, vice-president (academic) and pro-vice-chancellor, and then president and vice-chancellor of his alma mater throughout the decade of the eighties.
It was a period when, in the words of one biographer, Memorial "faced great difficulties as a result of increasing enrollment and financial restraints." In addition to his responsibilities at Memorial University, Harris influenced secondary education at the provincial and national level in several other roles: as a member of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; as a member of the Academic Advisory Panel of the Canada Council; as director of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada; as a member of the executive council of the Association of Atlantic Universities, and as a member of the Corporate Higher Education Form.
Dr. Harris has served his province and his country in many capacities, as diverse as member and chairman of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, head of the Review Panel on the Northern Cod Stocks, chairman of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Complaints Commission, chairman of the Environmental Review for the Terra Nova (Offshore Oil) Project, and chairman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Fair.
An Officer of the Order of Canada and recipient of numerous awards, Dr. Harris lived in retirement in St. John's with his wife of more than 50 years, the former Mary Hewitt, until his death on August 26, 2008.