Dr. Leslie Harris
October 24, 1929 – August 26, 2008
When the Public Policy Research Centre and the Centre of Regional Development Studies were to be merged in 2004, the idea to name the new centre after Dr. Leslie Harris seemed perfect. Dr. Harris’ career and values embodied the contribution that the new centre was intended to make to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Leslie Harris was born in rural Newfoundland, the son of a fisherman, and he never lost his connection to the way of life of the province. He was an avid salmon fisherman and dedicated berry picker. When his health prevented him traveling too far from St. John’s, it was his trips to Fogo Island that he said he missed the most. His wife Mary was from Fogo, and they enjoyed many years visiting their summer home there, out on the berry grounds and enjoying, according to Dr. Harris, the best salt fish that could be found anywhere. Dr. Harris’ love for and knowledge of the fishery and rural Newfoundland and Labrador were eloquently captured in his many inspirational talks and speeches over the years.
When he returned to Newfoundland with his University of London PhD, he helped design a new history program at Memorial that introduced students to history as a discipline. As he taught it, history was not about remembering names and dates, but it was about interpreting the past, understanding differing perspectives, and reaching your own conclusions.
This intellectual discipline was reflected in Dr. Harris’ work as an administrator and as a leader in the province’s public policy community. Whether it was as a labour arbitrator, the leader of an historic task force on the fishery, or the head of the Royal Newfoundland and Labrador Constabulary Police Complaints Commission, Leslie Harris was trusted to assess the merits of all arguments and evidence and reach fair and practical conclusions. He brought the same wisdom to his years as a senior administrator, vice-president (academic) and president at Memorial University. Through all his life and career, Leslie Harris personified integrity as an individual and engendered respect for the independence of the university as an institution. These values of integrity and independence have become the guiding principles of the Harris Centre.