Robert L. Harris Jr.
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Robert Lee Harris, Jr., PhD


Dr. Robert L. Harris, Jr., 90, passed away peacefully at Springmoor on August 8, 2014.

He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Peggy L. Harris, his daughter, Linda H. Edmisten and her husband, Rufus, his son, James A. Harris and his wife, Nancy, his son Robert J. Harris and his wife Lisa, and three grandchildren, James H. Harris, Jonathan "Jack" Harris, and Elizabeth "Lucy" Harris.

Robert "Bob" was born to Robert and Gladys Harris on July 18, 1924, in Hollister, Mo. He and his four sisters had many adventures when their father, a WW I veteran and reserve Army officer, was called to active duty in Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. They accompanied their father to project sites across the Midwest and West, and when he was called to serve with the British army during their North Africa campaign against General Rommel, the family returned to the Ozarks, where Bob enrolled in the University of Arkansas. He then enlisted in the Army Air Corps aviation cadet training, and was called to active duty in January, 1943. Upon being commissioned a Second Lt. in 1944, he was assigned to the P-40 fighter squadron assigned to guard the Panama Canal. Following the war, Bob joined the tens of thousands of returning veterans taking the opportunity to receive a college education through the G.l. bill. After earning a BS in Chemical Engineering at the University of Arkansas, in 1949 he joined the US Public Health Service, and commenced a 20-year career that involved moving all over the country to manage various projects and programs designed to protect air, water, and workers' health, most notably assembling scientific data to support the landmark federal Clean Air At of 1970, and its subsequent amendments. During this time, he earned a MS in Environmental Sciences at Harvard University, and later a PhD in Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In 1973 he joined the faculty at the Gillings School of Public Health at UNC and managed the Occupational Health Studies Group. During this time he organized many public health and environmental initiatives, including a landmark research project focused on protecting the employees in the rubber tire industry from the effects of asbestos during the production process. He served the state as a member of the NC Environmental Management Commission, and the citizens of Raleigh on environmental advisory committees. Following his retirement from UNC, he remained active, consulting on myriad projects and overseeing the publication of the 5th edition of Patty's Industrial Hygiene. His devotion to environmental protection and public health is reflected in his many professional accomplishments, as well as in his love of backpacking, camping,and canoeing.

"Dr. Bob," as he was affectionately called by his son-in-law, will be fondly remembered by his family and legions of friends and admirers for his gentle kindness to others and for his wit and humor on all occasions. For those of his friends and students who wish to remember Bob's life and accomplishments, the family suggests a contribution honoring him to the Triangle Land Conservancy or to an environmental protection organization of your choice.

A celebration of Bob's life and accomplishments will be held at a later date.
Published in The News & Observer on Aug. 12, 2014.
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