Never was Stuart Harris happier than the two weeks each year he spent vacationing with his family.
As friends shared memories of Harris at his funeral at Har Shalom synagogue March 25, they recalled Stuart Harris the attorney and Stuart Harris the baseball and softball coach. They recalled the Stuart Harris who was famous for his Thanksgiving pies.
But, invariably, they reached the same conclusion: that Stuart Harris the family man trumped the rest.
“People describe him uniformly as one of the nicest guys they ever knew,” said George Milne, Harris’ best friend and next-door neighbor for 20 years. “That’s a good description. To me, although Stuart was a great attorney and he enjoyed his work, there was nothing more important to him than his family.”
Harris, a partner at the antitrust law firm Howrie LLP and father of two, died March 24 on a company trip to the Cayman Islands. He was 56.
He is survived by his wife Susan; his daughter Caryn, 23, a psychology researcher at Harvard University; his son Evan, 20, a junior at Middlebury College; his brother Barry; and his father, George.
The cause of Harris’ death has not officially been determined. A preliminary pathology report indicates that Harris, who was snorkeling with his wife and a colleague, suffered a cardiac arrhythmia that caused him to drown, according to Milne.
HARRIS GREW UP in New York and attended Tufts University and George Washington University Law School. He joined Howrie directly out of law school and built a reputation as one of the nation’s top antitrust lawyers, specializing in the petroleum industry. He represented Exxon in its merger with the Mobil Corporation in 1999.
Since 1986, Harris lived with his family in River Falls, where he for years organized the Fourth of July fun run and Memorial Day festivities at the River Falls Swim Club. He sat on the Civic Association of River Falls board.
Stuart Harris, Barry Harris, Milne, and two other men were close friends who married and had children at nearly the same time.
“We share one very strong core belief, that nothing in life is more important than our families,” Milne said.
The families often vacationed together, traveling to Alaska, the Southwest, and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Harris thrived on that quality time and interaction.
Surveying the more than 300 people at the funeral, Harris’ friend Steve Lerner said, “It just doesn’t seem right that Stuart isn’t here.”
One speaker at the funeral recalled his putting three-month-old Caryn to sleep before a dinner party. Harris got up during dinner and when friends asked why he said that he had promised Caryn he would come back to check on her.
CARYN HARRIS recalled that her father dressed her as a New York Yankee for her first Halloween and that in the years since the two shared a love of sports — attending baseball games, watching football and even participating in fantasy leagues — even though she became an Orioles fan while he supported the Yankees.
She promised that when she has a child, his first costume would be a baseball player — an Oriole.
Evan Harris said that as a teenager he tried to accentuate the ways he differed from his father.
“I’ve since realized that I have been remarkably ineffective at finding significant points of difference, or I never really desired to be all that different in the first place,” he said. “The truth is there is no one in the world that I more closely aspire to be like. … He went through life with dignity and class and always treated others with genuine respect and kindness. He was and always will be my hero.”