AGE is a Gift – Willard Harris

AGE is honored to spotlight Willard Harris, beloved grandmother of Portland artist and activist, Shani Harris-Bagwell, who was born in Tennessee, December 22, 1919.  Raised milking cows and picking cotton, she received her undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee, her Nursing degree from Meharry Medical College and her Masters from NYU in the 1950’s.  

Pregnant with her second child Ms. Harris moved to San Francisco in 1967 where she became the first Black director of nursing in California. She founded the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, although the credit was given to a white doctor, and she was president of their board for over a decade.  Ms. Harris was appointed Commissioner of Aging by San Francisco mayor, Art Agnos. Her legacy continues as Willard Harris Day is celebrated on December 22nd in San Francisco.  Ms. Harris credits the women who have shaped her life, including Maya Angelou, Dorothy Heights, and her cousin Rosalie.

At 99, Willard Harris still proctors the California bar exam. She does water aerobics twice a week and enjoys lunch with her friends. She recently learned to play the piano.  A message Ms. Harris wants to share with everyone is, “I try to avoid stress. I try to be forgiving. I’m trying to be healthy and loving. I feel that I’m asking dear God to give me happiness and grace, so that I can be a cup of strength to others who may be in need.”