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Charles Harrison Remembered for Community Service, Warm Smile

Friends recall his leadership from the Township Council to the Rotary Club—as well as his ever-present smile.

Jean Walker and Charles Harrison worked the Rotary Club table at the 2011 Somerset County 4H Fair—Harrison had been a longtime member of the club. Credit: Jean Walker
Jean Walker and Charles Harrison worked the Rotary Club table at the 2011 Somerset County 4H Fair—Harrison had been a longtime member of the club. Credit: Jean Walker
One of Dr. L. Jean Walker's favorite photos of her father, Charles Harrison, was taken three years ago at the Somerset County 4H Fair, as both were working the table for the Rotary Club of Somerville-Bridgewater.

In the photo, a slight smile graces Harrison's face—a smile everyone who knew him remembers first when asked what they knew about one of Bridgewater's most active leaders and community volunteers.

Harrison died Dec. 30, leaving behind a legacy of community service and professional work that reaches the moon.

Harrison worked for many years as legal counsel to AT&T companies, including a stint with Bellcom, which Walker said was one of the affiliations of which he was most proud.
 
"Bellcom worked with NASA to put the first man on the moon and was very proud to be involved in that," she said.

Harrison retired in 1989, after which he dove into community service with the same vigor he played football at Marshall University as a college student. He served on the Bridgewater Township Council from 1994 to 2001, including a stint as council president in 1996.

While there, he mentored current Councilman Howard Norgalis and Mayor Daniel Hayes, who spoke fondly of Harrison's leadership and involvement at Monday's reorganization meeting.

"Charlie was truly altruistic, serving the township in whatever capacity was necessary to assist our community," Mayor Hayes said during his State of the Township speech. "He chaired the first board I served on. I cherished his friendship and counsel. He is already missed."

Harrison was also a longtime member of the Rotary Club, where he was honored with Rotary International's Paul Harris Fellowship Award, and the Somerset County Business Partnership, which presented him with its Citizen of the Year Award in 1996.
James Rick Jr., who was president of the Rotary Club, was asked to say a few words about him at the SCBP meeting.

"I was pretty nervous because Charlie was so well respected and I was just a 35 year old 'kid,' Rick said. "Charlie was of course great about all the jokes and I recall teasing him about being spotted in the parking lot breaking all the deer alert devices off of the car bumpers—you see, Charlie was in charge of the Bridgewater Township committee that wanted to initiate deer hunts and other means of reducing the deer population and I joked that he wanted deer killed by any means possible."

If anything, Harrison only smiled more at the ribbing.

Michael Kerwin, president of the Somerset County Business Partnership, said Harrison was also supportive of the group's members and projects.

"In my mind, he's really representative of the kinds of leaders we've had in Somerset County over the last 50 years—he did it all," Kerwin said. "I think Bridgewater can be proud to call Charlie a native son."
 
Harrison actually moved to Bridgewater in 1971, joining Bridgewater United Methodist Church, where he was also active on many boards and groups. Walker said despite his busy professional life and involvement, she remembers him taking her to Broadway shows and television broadcast tapings growing up.

"He did a lot to enrich my life," she said. At his funeral, she told the gathered crowd how her father took her to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, and to Palisades Amusement Park. "We saw a taping of the Dick Cavett variety TV show and waited at the back stage door to see Tiny Tim make his exit. We went to a Dave Clark Five concert."

"He really regarded family as important," Walker, a professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, said.

She said used to marvel at how her father would rise early in the morning during his visits to her Texas home, to sit outside and enjoy the quiet early sun...only to have his young grandsons run to him.

"He would sit a talk to them—I never knew what they were talking about, but you could just see how he loved it in his eyes," she said.

One favorite topic for conversation with Harrison was football: he enjoyed the Giants and rooted for West Virginia—but it was his alma mater Marshall that held his heart.

"He made Marshall University practically a household word for many of us with his frequent 'happy dollars' at Rotary praising Marshall’s accomplishments," Rick said. "When the movie 'We are Marshall' came out, it meant so much more to me knowing that Charlie had gone there."

Walker said some of her most recent conversations with her father were Monday morning "quarterbacking" sessions, where they would dissect the Giants' play, and college games of Marshall, West Virginia and her alma mater, Florida State.

"We had many long conversations about football," she said.

And, one imagines, he said it all with a smile.

"I can't think of a time when he wasn't smiling," Kerwin said.

It's true, Walker added. She said even when he went in for heart surgery five years ago, his attitude never wavered.

"I was enormously proud of him when he went in and was teasing the medical staff," she said.

Services were held Saturday at the Bridgewater United Methodist Church, followed by entombment at Somerset Hills Memorial Park in Basking Ridge.

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Rotary Club of Somerville-Bridgewater, P.O. Box 16, Somerville, N.J. 08876.

To send condolences to the family, visit the website for the Bruce Van Arsdale Funeral Home.  

 

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