Beaufort icon had passion for helping others

8 mins read

Photo above: Nathan Harris could often be seen in one of his dapper outfits riding his bike around town. File photo.

Staff reports

A Beaufort icon has passed away.

Nathan Harris, 87, of Beaufort, died Dec. 23, 2017, at the Medical University of South Carolina.

His journey to Beaufort was somewhat roundabout, but once here, he made a huge difference in the community.

Harris could have lived a life of leisure. Born into a wealthy English family, he did not have to work after he graduated from college. He spent his time fox hunting three days a week, hunting, shooting and riding the steeplechase the other days.  

But he felt there must be more to life, some contribution he could make.  

His father had served his community as lord mayor of Leicester, England. Harris remembered World War II vividly as a child, where he watched his father constantly work to get refugees and Jews out of France before and after the Nazis took over.  

He also remembered a vacation at the seashore where he watched the legendary flotilla of small boats manned by local citizens rescue over 30,000 British troops from across the English Channel the night that France fell to the Germans and the Nazis were rushing to annihilate the trapped troops.

He saw that one person’s efforts could make a big difference in peoples’ lives and he wanted to also.

His first chance came when he was elected to the Leicester County Council. He started looking for ways he could help improve the quality of life of local families. A deeply spiritual man, he also chaired the Parish Council. He felt education was a way to open horizons for many of the poor working class children there, so he became involved with the Leicester Education Authority (which was the largest education authority in England) and later became its head.  

Over the years, it became a model as one of the most progressive and successful education authorities in England and received many awards. While there, Harris organized students and teachers to create the most successful youth orchestra in Britain.  

After seeing what enrichment music brought to the student’s lives, Harris wanted to expand their experience of the visual arts as well since many were too poor to travel to the great museums of London.  

He oversaw the creation of the finest collection of art by living artists in Britain outside of the Tate Gallery by getting artists involved to put their art in schools for students to feel and touch and experience them firsthand. 

Harris was the head of these organizations for over 20 years as well as being a columnist on Education and Social Improvement issues for two major London based newspapers (the Times and Guardian) and often appeared on television as a popular pundit.

Before she became prime minister, Margaret Thatcher was appointed Minister of Education for England. In that capacity she began to butt heads with Harris, who was chairman of the Leiceister Education Authority and East Midlands Arts Association.  

“She thought art and music were unnecessary, a waste of money and irrelevant,” said Harris in a 2014 Island News interview. “She said publicly that the idea of bringing culture into the education of working class children gave them ideas beyond their station.

“She started off good by restraining the unions, but her anti-working class attitude proved to be a disaster. So though they think here in America she’s the cat’s whiskers, by the time she left office she wasn’t well regarded in England and had lost her luster.”

But before that, he had decided it was time to leave England. “I didn’t want to see my life’s work destroyed. There was nothing I could do to stop it,” he said.

Nathan’s marriage of 27 years which resulted in “four wonderful children” had ended in divorce a few years earlier and he had met a new love, Alison Strong, from a well-regarded aristocratic family.  

Realizing he’d have to make money, Harris flew to New York City and joined a marketing business that a friend had there.  

The friend, who lived in Connecticut, wanted to move the business South to a little town called Beaufort and that’s how Harris ended up here.  

His wife soon followed and became the office manager at Fripp Island Real Estate Company.  

They lived in Ashedale for eight years. His wife became sick, and after a long illness, died. 

Harris had to mortgage the house to pay all the hospital bills, which he did and had enough left over to barely buy the historic Joseph Patterson House on the corner of Duke and Newcastle in the North West Quadrant downtown which was a “falling down wreck.”  

He and a carpenter friend persevered however and over the years, saved it and restored it to its present day beauty.

Harris was involved with AMI Kids Beaufort (Marine Institute) for many years.

“I think it is the best program for young people in trouble with the law in the world,” he said in the 2014 interview.

At an AMIKids Croquet Fundraiser at Bray’s Island, Harris played master of ceremonies and stayed on the mic with his soft cultured English accent for nearly four hours talking to the crowd about the organization and imploring them to contribute. As a result he raised nearly $45,000 of the record $95,000 raised this year.  

Harris also enjoyed being the Eucharistic minister at St. Helena Church for over 20 years. He was friends with Rev. Alexander McBride, the minister of the First African Baptist Church on The Point for many years.

Harris met the third love of his life, Carol Washington, and they were married when he was 81.  

About Beaufort, Harris said, “It’s a very interesting mixture of many sorts of people that I find interesting, the epitome of American ‘small town charm.’ ”

Anderson Funeral Home handled arrangements for the family.

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