When you say Jim Harris, the question becomes ‘which one’?

Published 12:16 am Sunday, July 7, 2024

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UVA football has signed a Jim Harris, outside linebacker, but it’s hard to forget his namesake. In 1961, there was a walk-on named Jim Harris, a Buckingham and Prince Edward County resident, now 81. He had been recruited by the University of South Carolina, but chose to be at UVA, where he played on the freshman and varsity teams. His wife, Caryl, and he now reside near Chester and are rabid UVA fans to include football, baseball and basketball. 

Jim’s mother Nell liked Hampden-Sydney College but encouraged him to go to UVA. She even took him there to take college boards and conduct an interview in the Rotunda. 

When applying to UVA, Jim wrote a paper on how much being accepted meant to him. Sure, he may have thrown in the desire to play some sports in that paper. He loved the outdoors, aviation (became a private pilot under the G. I. Bill) and had been a hunter with his father, James Edward (Tigger) Harris, and mother, Nell Harris, in Prince Edward County and his uncle Metellus Fitzpatrick in Buckingham County. 

Trying out for football

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Once making it to UVA, Jim had a choice. He tried UVA football until he had heat stroke on a hot August day and was treated by Joe Gleck, the school’s long-term trainer. The coaches had decided to make Jim and Bob Kolakowski, who later played for the Detroit Lions, tackles and so they lined up with hot blocking suits while eight players in each of two lines with regular gear took them on. Dave Graham, who starred at UVA, was one of the tackles opposing Jim in his line. Later a coach saw Jim recuperating on the sidelines with regular gear and told him to run wind sprints. 

After Jim was treated at Memorial Gym for the heat stroke, Bob commented that he would quit except for having a scholarship. This helped Jim make his decision…he wanted to handle the ball and had been an end in high school at Farmville High School and Prince Edward/Fuqua Academy. Jim was recognized as the Most Improved Player in 1960…he hadn’t even played football until the 10th grade when he transferred from Worsham, a small country school near Hampden-Sydney College.

He was 6’ 3,” 200 lbs., and versatile enough…played varsity basketball and served as co-captain with Lewis “Skeeter” Fore on the 1961 baseball team. Skeeter, by the way, became the longtime head coach at Prince Edward/Fuqua Academy. 

Jim went over to the UVA Rugby Club where he could handle the ball on the “A” Team as fullback and Wing. In the spring of 1965 the “A” team was undefeated. The Rugby Club Jim played with always had winning seasons and played 10 games both Spring and Fall. They came in third in a nationwide tournament at Notre Dame and played as far south as Nassau and up the east coast to Governor’s Island in New York. 

Switching careers

Jim was also with AFROTC at UVA and after he completed his Air Force tour as a public information officer he returned to his hometown, Farmville, where he spotted Caryl while on a news beat with the Farmville Herald. She was a Five County Fair beauty queen, 10 years his junior, but they met and married and have been attending most UVA football games, as well as basketball and baseball, since 1992. Caryl is a Longwood College graduate.

Jim has always been an outdoorsman and in the Air Force Reserve as a Disaster Preparedness Officer at Langley Air Force Base one of his duties was to respond to air crashes. While he was working as an administrator at Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center, Powhatan County, he responded to a downed F-15 in Amelia County. He knew the terrain around Beaumont for miles since he was chairman of the AWOL Apprehension Committee (more like the Escape Apprehension in actuality) and led many a chase for an escaped juvenile. 

James (Jim) Edward Harris, Jr. grew up in Buckingham and Prince Edward counties. His mother, Nell, grew up near the Willis Mountain and waited for Jim, his son – Jeb, and another teenager at Wingina when they canoed from Bent’s Creek in the same canoe in 1990. Then the water was so low that the group had to push the canoe through the rocks. Jeb is a true outdoorsman who lives in a timber frame house he built for his family in Vermont.