, Salem, MA

Local News

June 1, 2009

Salem grad, 75, the man who 'never quits'

SALEM — Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis was a graduation speaker and the star attraction at yesterday's commencement at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

But Carl "Lefty" Harris surely turned a few heads.

The 75-year-old Salem resident, with gray hair visible under his graduation cap, was awarded a bachelor's degree yesterday as a member of the Class of 2009. Not bad for a guy who dropped out of Bates in 1954 to join the Army.

All these decades later, after getting married, raising a family, working as an insurance executive, running the former T.R. Kerr Furniture company, opening the former Finkle's restaurant, traveling the country handling business liquidations, and splitting his time between here and Florida, Harris decided to return to Bates to get his degree.

"I'm the kind of person who never quits at anything," he said.

He is the second-oldest graduate in Bates history.

Between 2007 and last fall, he took six courses, getting all A's and B's. He attended college as a commuter, traveling 250 miles round-trip from his Essex Street home to the Maine campus.

"I figure I drove 62 times up and back," said Harris, the owner of a 2003 Lincoln LS.

He would leave before dawn, stay a night or two in a bed-and-breakfast, and often return in the wee hours of the morning. He liked to drive in the dark when there was no traffic.

"I'm not a good sleeper," he said.

The idea of returning to college came to him four years ago when classmates starting calling to ask if he was going back for the 50th reunion of the Class of 1955 — his original class.

A 1950 graduate of Salem High, Harris had gone to Tilton, a prep school in New Hampshire. He played football and basketball and was recruited by Bates, then left college in the second semester of his junior year.

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