Paul L. Harris, Jr. ’65, was awarded the Benjamin M. Beckham Medallion, the College’s highest alumni honor, during commencement on Saturday, May 5. Named after the College’s first president, Dr. Benjamin M. Beckham, the Medallion is awarded to an alumnus or alumna who exemplify in an exceptional manner the Ferrum motto, “Not Self, But Others.” Harris was introduced to Ferrum College in 1963 by a pastor at his church in Richmond, Virginia. Classes for his first semester that fall were delayed as workers rushed to complete Chapman Hall and then, while making up for this lost time during Thanksgiving break, the campus, the nation, and the world were stunned by the assassination of President John Kennedy.
Despite this adverse beginning, Harris, who described himself at that time as “an indifferent student”, was inspired to become active in campus life, play for Colonel Bud Skeens’ first Panther tennis team, and achieve his Associates of Arts degree in 1965. He believes that his Ferrum experience helped him learn how to assume a role of leadership, gain self-confidence, and prove to himself that he could achieve higher goals than he had ever thought possible.
Harris went on to receive his Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from the University of Richmond, serve as a staff sergeant in the US Air Force -Virginia Air National Guard, and work for Price Waterhouse in Washington, D.C. where he began an illustrious international career in business and financial management. He was vice president of finance at Universal Restoration from 1973 to 1976 and completed the European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD) Advanced Business Management Program in Fontainebleau, France in 1986. Recruited by British Aerospace North America, he and his family spent several years in London, England with their Commercial Aircraft Division. He returned to the states in 1992 to take on the role of Senior Vice President and General Manager responsible for the company’s investments in North America. He retired from British Aerospace in 2000 after 25 years of service.
As a former member of the United Christian Parish in Reston, Virginia, Harris served as chair of the Finance Committee. He is currently a member of Bethany United Methodist Church in Reedville, Virginia. His community involvement includes a position as commodore at the Virginia Yacht Club and board service for British Aerospace North America, Inc., Indian Creek Yacht and Country Club, Cheshire Homes of Arlington, Reflectone, Inc., the National Aviation Club, and the Washington Dulles Task Force. He has been a member of the Financial Executives Institute and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
Harris joined the Ferrum College Board of Trustees in 2000 and in 2005 became the first alumnus to be named Chair. During his tenure he spoke of witnessing the same dedication from faculty and staff that he had experienced as a student and continuously expressed in pride in the College and its growth. His words are as relevant today as they were then, “To the current students at Ferrum I would hope that you will take advantage of all the opportunities that student life offers. Ferrum will always be a part of you and you will always remember your experiences, your friendships, and lessons learned. I still remember mine.”
In 2001, Harris and his wife established the Ferrum College Paul L. Harris ’65 and Susan Lee Harris Endowed Scholarship. The financial aid generated from this fund benefits Ferrum College students from Washington, D.C. and Fairfax or Northumberland Counties in Virginia. As endowment donors, the Harrises are members of the Ferrum College Beckham Society as well as the Arthur Society for their generous annual support of College programs and the Ruth Society for their consistent financial assistance.
Despite his impressive achievements, Harris remains humble and a man of character, generosity, and integrity – a worthy recipient of the 2018 Ferrum College Beckham Medallion.