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Lois Harrison Herald-Mail's Person of the Year for 2006

January 01, 2007

When Lois Smith Harrison learned she had been named The Herald-Mail's Person of the Year for 2006, her first reaction was that someone must be teasing her.

Not only was she not a man, as all the previous winners have been, Harrison said she didn't feel she "rated along with the men who had gotten it before."

We beg to differ. The criteria for this award is simple: The recipient must have made a significant, positive effect on Hagerstown and Washington County and their citizens. She has done that and more for at least 60 years.

Consider that by the age of 22, she had already earned her master's degree in school administration and was named the first administrator of Hagers-town Junior College.

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She spent her first summer on the job recruiting students for the new school, bringing in 96 in all. With a shoestring budget, Harrison had no money for a large staff and was forced to act as the school's registrar and counselor. She also taught sociology and hired most of the first faculty members.

Sixty years later, HJC has become Hagerstown Community College, with its own campus, hundreds of students and an "incubator" center for businesses that rely on new technology.

We believe that happened in large part because of the firm foundation built by its first administrator.

Harrison also served for many years on the Hood College Board of Trustees.

But her greatest role might be as a member of the board of the Washington County Health System. When the structure of the hospital's governing body was changed in 1997 to keep health care local and affordable, Harrison was named to the board.

She had served on the Washington County Hospital's Board of Directors previously, first as an ex-officio member by virtue of her position as head of the auxiliary, then as a full member.

In a 1991 interview with The Herald-Mail's Gloria Dahlhamer, Harrison said that working with the auxiliary was good training for a slot on the board, since she had seen every corner of the building and knew a great deal about what happened where.

In that same interview, she credited then-hospital president Horace Murphy and the board for having the vision to turn Washington County from a "little community hospital" to a regional health center.

Harrison was part of that board and has a fair claim on a large part of the credit, although she has seldom sought the spotlight. The Herald-Mail's archive contains a handful of her quotes, mostly in praise of others.

In that, she is akin to The Herald-Mail's previous winners, all of whom cared more about getting good things done than with getting credit for their accomplishments.

When she has been quoted, it was often in reference to the spirit of public service instilled by her family and her father, R. Paul Smith, once president of the Potomac Edison Co.

Harrison told Dahlhamer that her father always told his family that "the work you don't get paid for is the work that really makes the world go round."

For many years, Lois Harrison has quietly done the work to turn the wheels that made lives better in Washington County. For that, she richly deserves to be The Herald-Mail's 2006 Person of the Year.

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