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Person of the Year

January 01, 2007|by CANDICE BOSELY

HAGERSTOWN - Her doctors can't figure out what is causing the imbalance problem, but it's clear that Lois Smith Harrison has had enough.

A woman who inherited a sense of civic duty from her parents, who has served on numerous boards and committees in the community and who considers her family to be her proudest accomplishment, Harrison is eager to ditch the cane she now needs for walking in favor of regaining her independence.

Harrison, 83, of Hagerstown, has made her way in the world with confidence - and made sure her involvement in the community never superseded her focus on family.

A résumé of service

Her decades of service to a variety of organizations prompted Harrison to be named the Herald-Mail's 2006 Person of the Year.

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As diversified as a good investment portfolio, Harrison's community involvement spans a variety of organizations.

She has been a volunteer with Washington County Hospital for more than four decades and was the president of the auxiliary, served as a member on the hospital's board of directors, was chairwoman of a bank board, served on the county's Economic Development Commission, is an active member of her church and wrote a book about the church's history, was appointed to a state education commission, and was chairwoman of the board at her college alma mater, among other activities.

None of those, however, make up her proudest accomplishment.

"I'm most proud of my family. Through all of this, I don't think I ever neglected the family or put things ahead of what they needed," Harrison said.

She participated in her children's' activities and tried to create a place to which they felt comfortable bringing friends. In turn, her family supported her.

"I had the freedom to do what I wanted to do," she said.

Harrison has three children - Elizabeth "Betsy" Boyce, Margaret Harrison and Richard Paul Harrison - and five grandchildren.

After listing her family as her proudest accomplishment, Harrison noted her work with Hagerstown Junior College - later renamed Hagerstown Community College, but still called HJC by Harrison and some others - in its early years, when its future was tenuous at best.

"It's made a difference in the lives of a lot of kids," she said. "We have lots of success stories where the school made a difference."

Her oldest daughter, Margaret L. Harrison, nominated her for Person of the Year.

"I'm 50 years old and my entire life I've seen her give to her community," Margaret Harrison said. "She never tires from that, she is always excited by it."

Harrison, a dentist in Hagerstown who uses the name Margaret Wade for her practice, said that from the time she was a child, her mother has offered a constant bit of wisdom.

"It's what you give of yourself to others - that's what matters," Harrison said, recalling her mother's words. "She's been a great role model for me."

She described her mother as caring, loving, supportive, giving and forgiving.

"She's just a very stable, strong person that you can count on," Margaret Harrison said.

If one of her children ever found himself or herself in need of something, Lois Harrison would find a way to help them, her daughter said.

During her childhood, her mother was head of the children's choir at their church, helped with Girl Scouts and other activities, and often had cookies baking in the oven.

"We always encouraged her to do whatever she wanted, and she was always there for us," Margaret Harrison said.

Margaret Harrison's children always felt comfortable in their grandparents' house, and their grandmother took them to places that were both educational and fun, including Antietam National Battlefield, Sideling Hill, and community and cultural events.

Sometimes Margaret Harrison will see her gregarious mother talking with someone. After the conversation ends, Harrison will ask her mother who the person was and occasionally her mother will say she had no idea at first.

"She can talk to anyone imaginable," Margaret Harrison said. "She just loves life and loves people.

"In her life, there is never a bad day," she said.

A microscope's role

It could be said that it was a microscope that started Harrison's family.

She first met Richard "Dick" Harrison when he was a student at HJC and she was working as the registrar.

Both admit that neither was interested in the other, at first.

After Richard Harrison was admitted to dental school at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, he called Harrison to ask whether she could lend him a microscope from HJC; he needed the microscope for a class.

She took the microscope to him when she made one of her regular trips to Baltimore.

Dinners together followed as Richard Harrison continued his education - and ran out of GI Bill funding.

"He said, 'We're going to have to get married because I don't have any money to finish school,'" Lois Harrison said, laughing.

They were married in June 1951.

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