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Remarks Delivered at the Funeral of Bobby Harrison
Shiloh Baptist Church, Erie Pennsylvania
Saturday, September 30, 2006
by John E. Horan

Bobby Harrison has entered the Pantheon of Erie greats that include: Alex Thompson, Lou Tullio, Gertrude Barber and Ben Wiley. Bobby's 40-year public serviced career was marked by a fierce dedication to the JFK Center. He founded it. He nurtured it. He built it. He resuscitated it. Bobby Harrison was the JFK. The JFK was Bobby Harrison. As the newspaper said today, quoting Emerson: "Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man."

But, unlike his Pantheon equals, Bobby spent his entire career laboring on the front line. Bobby worked every day for and with those individuals who had nothing and whom no one cared about. The people no one else wanted to help. Bobby raised them up. Helped them solve their problems. Got them on their feet. Gave them hope. When it comes to public service, Bobby was the "Gold Standard." Bobby will always be the model that each of us who labors in his shadow strives to emulate.

Bobby knew the value of an organization. He started his public career in 1967 as a grass roots community organizer at the Neighborhood Service Center on 21st and Holland. Bobby built his organization from a staff of two located in a store front to a full service agency with a staff that is able to serve hundreds every day of the year. Bobby worked tirelessly to keep the JFK Center going. He did it with his vision, his flexibility, his drive. When one source of funds dried up, Bobby had a plan to replace it. Bobby would not take "no" for an answer. If he could not convince you to fund his vision this year, he would come back next year and the year after, until you shared his vision.

Bobby was easy to underestimate. He was not as smooth as Alex, or Ben, or Gertrude. He spoke in staccato shorthand like Lou. His mind was always 10 steps ahead of his words. This confounded some and, at times, frustrated Bobby. He couldn't understand why you didn't get it, even though he hadn't yet said it. Those who did underestimate Bobby usually regretted it.

On a personal level, Bobby's career and my own have paralleled one another's. His started in 1967, mine in 1968. Bobby became director of the JFK Center in 1972. I was appointed Planning Director for the City in the same year. Since then, we have formed a mutual admiration society. The Housing Authority recognized Bobby as a "Hero of Public Housing" in 1993. In 2005, the Authority spearheaded the drive to build the Bobby Harrison Football Field at the Roger Young Park. Of all the wonderful things Bobby did in his long career, his work with the youth of the community was his calling and football was his passion. He coached the JFK Cowboys to seven consecutive Little Gridders championships in the 1970s. He founded the Flagship Niagara football League in 2001. The Bobby Harrison Football Field will bear testament to Bobby's contribution to the youth of our community.

Bobby Harrison was a friend. He always inquired about my health and my family. He had me to his home for his famous ribs. He even delivered them to my office. He was the first to volunteer when my daughter Jessica decided to enter the political arena. He was an ardent supporter of the Housing Authority back in the day when we had no support. We were each others "go to" guys when times got tough. Bobby was like a brother to me. I think Bobby was like a brother to everyone.

Recently, I was in Bobby's office admiring his collection of memorabilia. The piece that caught my eye was a column that he had written for the Erie Times in 1972 when the late Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm was in Erie delivering a speech on the importance of "Citizen Participation" by low-incomes, by minorities, by women, in the political decision making process. In Erie, no one has done more than Bobby Harrison to bring this simple yet profound principal to life.

Chisholm also first coined the phrase, "Public service is the rent we pay for our time on earth." Bobby's obituary was the longest in memory. His obituary is his ticket to heaven. After spending last Saturday evening at his beloved JFK Center with family and friends, Bobby had his Homecoming with God, appropriately, on Sunday morning. I can hear the conversation:

BOBBY: "What am I doing here?"

GOD: "I looked at your resume and I want you with me to be my right hand man."

BOBBY: "Yeah, man, Yeah. But not right now, man. I gotta find a way to replace the Health Clinic at the JFK Center."

GOD: "What you did unto the least of my brethren you did unto me. Bobby, your rent is paid in full. Welcome home! Welcome home!"