James Edward Harris left this world last Friday, less than two weeks after he and his family were told he had the big “C”, cancer. As I write this, I am in awe that I never knew a James Edward Harris – I knew a kind, always smiling, forever upbeat man named ‘Ebby’ Harris. Everyone whose life Ebby touched was richer for having known him. He touched lives in a quiet way, led them many times without them realizing he was changing their minds for the better. He had a way of influencing you and teaching you that left you with a feeling of accomplishment. He was very careful to never make anyone feel inferior when he was in charge.
Harris was a 17-year employee of James & Sikes Funeral Home. Chris Sikes says of Harris, “Ebby was my second daddy, I’ve told him many times how fortunate I was that he came into my life. We fished together; he took my boys fishing. He was a business advisor to me for almost 20 years and, to me, he had great business sense. He had learned from his dad, Floyd Harri,s and he learned well. He was a classy guy, always had it together. I don’t know that Ebby changed one bit in the 20 years I knew him. I used to tell him, if only I could age as gracefully as you have. He’d get on my tail when he needed to and if he thought I needed to change something, he would suggest it in a way that I knew he was right and never made me feel inadequate about it. His family took Traci, my boys, and me in; he was a mentor to all of us. When I lost my dad six years ago, Ebby stepped right in to fill those shoes. It was just a Godsend for me that God put him in the funeral home because he knew everyone and was liked by everyone and his presence there was felt by everyone.”
In life, everyone makes enemies, whether intentionally or not. Someone is not going to like something about the way you do this or that – not so with Ebby Harris. He made no enemies and everyone who met him walked away a better person. He had an infectious smile, a sense of humor most people can only dream of having. Those same sentiments are echoed by long time school board employee Sherri Johnson, “It was a pleasure to work with Ebby. He believed in having fun, but he wanted the work done and he wanted it done right. He was Gator fan and I was a Seminole. Oh, the fun we had going back and forth with that. But above all, he was a man that loved his family. That was always very evident. He will be missed by all that knew him.”
Rex Wimberly worked with Jackson County School Board during Ebby’s time there but knew him as a friend who showed him the way a civic organization should be run, “Ebby was a good man, a good father, and a mentor to all of us younger guys. Of course I’ve known the Harris family for a long time. Ebby and my mom graduated together. It was through civic clubs and other things that you really got to know what a fine man he was. We just enjoyed each other’s company. Dianne and I were just talking awhile ago about that little? rice smile that looked like he would break out laughing at any moment. Every Thursday, we sat right by each other at the Chipola Civic Club. If I wasn’t there he would take over my duties as secretary. He taught me how to be a secretary and to do it the right way. He just took me under his wings. His daughter Marsha just said the other day that I and many others were the sons he never had. He was just a mentor, he mentored many of us younger guys and we are all better for it. He just always made you feel very welcomed. He was all about helping the community in whatever way he could. He loved people and loved being around people. He was about helping the community and he always made sure that if there was a need in the community he was going to meet it. He loved Marianna; he loved the friends he had here. Ms. Jean was the love of his life and his family meant everything to him. He was a behind the scene guy, never searched for the attention for anything he did.”
Danny Sims spoke with the highest regard about Ebby, “He did everything with integrity,was honest, straightforward, and a good employee that cared about the schools. My time with Ebby goes way back. When Ebby was in high school and even earlier, my dad had a little grocery store out in Elsi Demonde ??Heights. Every day Ebby would get off the bus and immediately head to daddy’s store. He would work doing anything Daddy would give him to do. Before long he was working every day. He wanted to work all the time. My dad married late, in his thirties, and so he took off a couple of days to go to Panama City after his wedding. He talked to Ebby’s dad, Floyd, and asked if he could use Ebby for those two to three days while he was gone. So, Ebby had permission to miss school at 14 years old to run the store. Ebby was the only one he trusted.
Yes, Marianna lost an amazing man today but, oh, the memories he left behind. Though many are saddened by his loss, there is also joy in the remembrance of the relationships he enjoyed, the memories we have of him, and the impact he had on the lives of so many.