1941 - 2013
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Norman Howard Harris, Ph.D., a lifelong resident of Newhall, CA and a member of one of the town's most respected local families, passed away on Monday, January 7, 2013 at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. He was 71. He died of complications following a sudden stroke caused from a massive hematoma in the brain that he had experienced four days before.
Norman was born in 1941 to Walter and Betty Brown Harris in the Newhall Hospital on the corner of 6th and San Fernando Road. Norm and his "Band-of-Cousins": Sharon, Eddie, and Melanie Harris, along with his sister, Carolyn, lived a charmed life in Newhall. He created cowboy towns (his own Slippery Gulch) in his backyard, complete with a jail where he would lock up his little sister, often forgetting about her for hours. He built and raced coasters much like Hal Roach's "Our Gang" down the neighborhood hill. He rode his horse all over the hills and around the area of William S. Hart Park. He also rode over to Placerita Canyon Ranch to watch "Hoppy" Hop-a-Long Cassidy, William Boyd, film westerns along with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. His grandmother Mary MacIntosh Harris lived next to the First Presbyterian Church of Newhall and was married to an 'ole time rancher, Will Erwin. Mary's home was the center for the "Band-of-Cousins" and numerous neighborhood young people.
Norm went through the Newhall school system (check out the picture of the class of 1953 in Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures: http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/wr5350.htm). He graduated from William S. Hart High School in 1959, where he was notorious for creating dynamite in the high school chemistry lab and renting #2 pencils to less prepared students on test days. Norm was in the All-Southern California Honor Band and was one of the "76 Trombones" in a performance at the Hollywood Bowl. He attended Whittier College in Whittier, CA, graduating in 1963 with a degree in chemistry and minor in geology. In the summers of his college days, he worked as an intern for the Pacific Clay Products in Alberhill, CA. His job was to stand with flags in hand to direct massive earth-movers, which came within inches of him as they scraped away the clay. Norm earned a Ph.D. in Ceramic Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Norm took a trip around the world after he graduated, traveling to many remote and exciting places and visiting students with whom he had studied while in grad-school. While taking off in Hong Kong, his plane crashed in the Bay and he swam to safety climbing onto a fishing boat. His parents received a telegram that he was "lost at sea". A woman in front of him on the plane was seated right where the plane broke apart and did not survive. Norm often told the story of how he stayed at the YMCA before the crash, only to find himself after the disaster in the Hilton, having handmade tailored suits created and sewn for him overnight. When in Shonan (Chun-An), South Korea, Norm and his Newhall friend, Danny Agajanian, created the first "sister city" with Newhall.
Norm worked in the high-temperature ceramic lab at McDonnell Douglas in Santa Monica, CA and at Hughes Raytheon in El Segundo, CA. Portions of his master's and doctoral thesis were published in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society in 1967 and 1968. Products based on these kinds of materials became available in the early 1970s, including transducers, actuators, sensors, and coatings used with telescopes and precision optics, and a wide range of electronic devices.
Norm invented a high-temperature material that would help stabilize telescopes to prevent distortions. He worked on developing the high-temperature tiles that cover the underbelly of the space shuttles, thus making it possible for the ships to re-enter the earth's atmosphere without burning up. He and his collaborators continued to investigate and develop the potential of these and other high-temperature ceramic materials and their processing methods for the aerospace industry. At this time he started creating many inventions and patents, while he wrote professional papers on high-technical ceramics. He was awarded numerous patents (over twelve) for aerogels and porous tiles with microwave and broadband radiation-absorbing properties, infrared windows and domes, and methods of bonding polymeric parts without adhesives. He did extensive research on ceramic compounds with perovskite structures that have unusual piezoelectric, dielectric, and ferroelectric properties.
Norm was past president of the National Institute of Ceramic Engineers (NICE) and was elected to the honor of "Fellow". He was past president of the Southern California branch of the American Ceramic Society. Dr.'s Norman Harris, Andre Galliath, and Carl Frame, along with Cynthia Harris as registrar, created, wrote courses, and taught classes for the Ceramic Correspondence Institute (CCI) to train and educate students on how to manage a high-temperature ceramic lab. When the school was sold to the American Ceramic Society, it was serving 1450 students in 45 nations around the world. Dr. and Mrs. Harris, while on the curriculum committee at LA Trade Tech, established ceramic laboratory classes where he taught for several years.
Norm was a friend to many in the Santa Clarita, CA community, and was known for his affability and light-hearted sense of humor, always wearing his dapper hat. He was a collector of '60s muscle cars; often seen tinkering with them in his driveway. He had a running joke with Harry Bell and Scott Newhall on who had the "fastest" car. In the 'good-old-days' of Newhall, they would have "drag-raced" out past the carrot and onion fields on Newhall Avenue.
An avid supporter of preserving local history, Norm was a founding member of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society in 1975. He served as President and was on its board of directors for many years. One of Norm's biggest thrills was in 1980 as he drove the lead car, his 1968 Dodge Charger, on the night Cynthia moved the Saugus Train Station with the support and finances of the whole community to William S. Hart Park in Newhall. Through the efforts of Norm, his wife Cynthia, and Ruth Newhall, the Society was able to get a steam locomotive donated by Gene Autry when he sold Melody Ranch in 1981 and Mogul #1629 sits outside the "Saugus Train Station" today. Norm and Bobby Chesebrough Sr. wanted to get the 1910 steam locomotive running, first in the William S. Hart Park, then through downtown Newhall, on to Fillmore, then to Ventura. They both knew that to attract tourists from around the world to Newhall, a fully operational steam locomotive would achieve this; they worked toward that goal for many years.
Norm had a lifelong interest in jazz, regularly attending jazz concerts and Dixieland clubs in the Los Angeles area. As he continued to master the trombone, he became a charter member of the community's "Station House Five". This jazz combo entertained community members during the 1980s at the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society gatherings, the Newhall July 4th Parade, the Boys & Girls Club Auction, and other celebrations, such as Mentryville Ice Cream Socials.
Norm is survived by his wife Cynthia Neal-Harris and his son Howard Wayne Harris, a research scientist at U.S.C. There are many relatives, friends, and dear neighbors who will join in the celebration of his life (to be held at a later date). A private interment was held at Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Newhall, CA.
Norm's great-grandfather, Charles M. Hayes, founded the AAA School Safety Patrol in Chicago, IL which serves over 500,000 students in the USA and over 100,000 in Canada. Norm strongly believed in this cause and the Harris family asks that condolences be made with donations in Norman's memory to: Charles M. Hayes AAA School Safety Patrol Advancement Fund, c/o AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 607 14th St., N.W, Suite 201, Washington, D.C. 20005. All foundation monies go to helping create new School Safety Patrols in the USA and Canada, as no funds are taken for administration costs.
The Signal, February 17, 2013
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published on signalscv.com from February 16 to February 23, 2013.