David Jefferson Harris Jr. is remembered as a civil rights leader in New Brunswick whose legacy was to defend New Brunswick children.
Harris, longtime executive director of the Greater New Brunswick Day Care Council and the Mae J. Strong Child Development Center, died Saturday. He was 80 years old.
A memorial service is planned for the spring, according to Christopher Hassan, funeral director at Crabiel Parkwest Funeral Chapel.
“Dave was a real advocate for children, his main focus was on the early years,” said C. Roy Epps, president of the Civic League of Greater New Brunswick, who has known Harris since 1967, when he was a vice-president of the Greater New Brunswick Urban Association. League.
Epps said he and Harris have collaborated on programs over the years.
Bruce Morgan, president of the New Brunswick NAACP, said he learned of Harris’ death on Saturday.
“He was an activist. He was a strong NAACP supporter. He bled New Brunswick,” Morgan said, adding that Harris started the Greater New Brunswick Day Care Council. “He was a man of vision because the demographics of New Brunswick changed, he really started to serve the Latino community without ever forgetting the black community.
Morgan said Harris was “a very loving and gentle man” but also “a thorn in the side of the administration.”
Still, longtime mayor Jim Cahill remembers him fondly.
“Dave has been a powerful and influential voice for justice and equality, driven by his
compassion for the human dignity of every person,” Cahill said. “He played a huge role in shaping New Brunswick as it is today, and New Brunswick is a better place because Dave Harris was here. But there is still a lot to do. May his passing serve as an inspiration and a reminder that committed and determined people can make a better community. This responsibility rests with all of us.”
Harris had previously been a candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.
Christopher Paladino, president of the New Brunswick Development Corporation, said Harris served on DEVCO’s board in the mid-1990s for about three or four years.
“David was on our board, but there were times when he took different positions than ours on projects. David was always a strong opponent. He understood political discourse as having a difference of opinion , but it was never personal,” Paladino said.
A 1986 graduate of Rutgers-New Brunswick University College, Harris became a member of Rutgers’ board of directors on July 1, 1993, and served two full terms. He served as vice chairman of the board in fiscal years 1997 and 1998 and chairman of the board in fiscal years 1999 and 2000, according to a Rutgers spokesperson.
Harris was the first black person to lead one of the institution’s governing bodies.
On July 1, 2000, he became a member of the Rutgers Board of Governors and served until July 1, 2006, during which time he chaired numerous committees, including the Educational Planning and Policy Committee (later named Academic and Student Affairs) and Building and Grounds (before it was combined into Finance and Facilities.) He was also a member of the Undergraduate Teaching Task Force in fiscal year 2006, according to a door -word of Rutgers.
Paladino also recalled when he was 8 or 9 reading The Home News during the civil unrest of the late 1960s and seeing pictures of Harris with a megaphone and former mayor Patricia Sheehan on the front page.
Later, he worked with Harris and helped him with several projects and with improvements to his daycare center, Paladino said.
“He used to do good things with those kids,” Paladino said.
“David was a larger-than-life figure in more recent New Brunswick history,” Paladino said. “He will be missed. He is the last of a generation.”
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Suzanne Russell is a breaking news reporter for MyCentralJersey.com covering crime, the courts and other mayhem. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.