The Way We Were: Eunice Harris

The Way We Were: Eunice Harris

Dressed to the nines, adorned with accessories, and hair in a simple updo, Eunice Harris brings a lively personality and positive attitude to every room she enters. Her eyes are bright, and her smile is warm when she meets new and old friends. When meeting Harris, one might be surprised when they learn her age. She turned 102 years old in November.

Regularly joking that she is “there to stay,” Harris is the oldest resident at Starling at San Jose, although some might say she’s by far the most active.

And she doesn’t feel a day over 19. Besides the use of a walker, she is in great health.

“I feel great,” Harris said. “I feel well, and I sleep well.”

A good night’s sleep is something she attributes to her good health and longevity – that, and daily exercise at the facility’s on-site gym.

“I go to the gym every day. I’ve always exercised,” she said. “I have the gym all to myself. I don’t have to worry that I’ll have to wait, because I go and nobody’s there.”

She also doesn’t believe in taking medication.

“I don’t take any medication. None,” she said. “It’ll kill you.”

Instead, Harris tries to eat healthy and stay active in whatever outings are planned at Starling: tours, restaurants, theater, the symphony or lunch. She also plays Rummikub every day and bingo a few times a week.

“I can do most anything I want to do,” she said. “There’s a lot of activity here, and you can do as much or as little as you want to. I do not stay in my room.”

Born on her grandparents’ homestead in a small town in Georgia, she lived on a large working dairy farm with her two sisters, Sara and Ardelia. While living in Hazelhurst, Georgia, she met her “good husband” of 64 years, D Quillian Harris Jr., who was in college and in town visiting a friend.

Eunice Harris with her four children: Lester Harris, Duke Harris, Dorothy Hightower and Calhoun Harris.
Eunice Harris with her four children: Lester Harris, Duke Harris, Dorothy Hightower and Calhoun Harris.
Eunice Harris celebrates her 102nd birthday.
Eunice Harris celebrates her 102nd birthday.

“I was in a drug store, and they passed the drug store,” said Harris. “He said to his brother, ‘There’s your girl.’ And his brother said, ‘No, that’s just a sister.’”

The two went on a date the next night and married a year and a half later.

“He always adored mother, and she adored him,” said Calhoun Harris, Eunice’s son.

The couple had four children – Dr. D Quillian “Duke” Harris, Calhoun Harris, Dorothy Hightower and Dr. W. Lester Harris – as well as seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Along with being a wife and mother, Eunice Harris was also a teacher for more than 30 years, including to all four of her children. When her son Calhoun was one of her students, he kept accidentally calling her “mother,” like at home, after which everyone started calling her “Mother Harris.” To this day, she still has students who send her birthday cards.

“I loved teaching,” she said. “If you didn’t like it, you shouldn’t be there.”

Harris was very active in her community. She was a member of the garden club and was responsible for planting 100 live oaks in her town. All the family were regular churchgoers at McRae United Methodist Church.

“Growing up, we had our certain pew. I call it my pew” Harris said. “Sometimes I wonder who’s sitting there now.”

Harris’ husband passed away in June 2007. She moved to Jacksonville in 2017 – just down the road from her son – after she broke her pelvis and couldn’t live by herself any longer. She accepted the process with grace, just like when the time came to stop driving.

“I drove my car to Calhoun’s house, and I gave him my key, and we never said anything else about it,” she said.

Eunice Harris with her sister, Sara Ellis James.
Eunice Harris with her sister, Sara Ellis James.

Grace and longevity run in Harris’ family. Her younger sister, Sara, passed away 11 days before her 100th birthday in 2023. Her sister Ardelia lived until 93 before her passing in 2014, and their mother nearly made it to 100 as well – just a few months shy. Harris’ longest-living relative was her great-grandmother who lived to be 109 years old.

For this long life, Harris considers herself to be incredibly blessed.

“Everything has been pretty much smooth,” she said. “I make it sound like it was just perfect, but I guess there were all these challenges, such as deaths in the family. But even then, we can’t change those things, and you make the most out of it. I really have had a good life. Still am, thank goodness.”

“She’s still an inspiration to all of us,” said her son. “And she runs circles around everybody in this building.”

By Jennifer Jensen
Resident Community News

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