The simple life of a man rich in many ways
He could afford to live in the biggest house, drive the nicest cars and take the most lavish vacations. What did he choose? Work.
Lionel Harris died early Monday morning at the age of 89.
He got as far as completing the eighth grade before he went to work. His work was pumping gas and changing tires.
He married Bea in 1946 when he was still in his teens and Bea had just graduated from Cushing High School.
Lionel Harris Oil Company began as a log-cabin service station six miles north of Cushing on State Highway 18, very close to where he last lived.
Both Lionel and Bea were pretty plain-speaking people.
Bea, although every inch a lady, was a take-charge kind of gal. We think there is no question that Bea contributed significantly to the couple’s success.
Lionel and Bea were married more than 70 years before her death in 2014.
Lionel and Bea never had kids. For most of their adult life, the couple could have afforded to do anything they wanted.
When many people would rather live by the theory, “He who has the most toys when they die wins,” Lionel and Bea’s toys were more trucks and more inventory.
Their family was their business. Their hobby was working.
Years ago, it was said that if Lionel is not working at the shop, he was waiting tables at Joseph’s in Drumright. That was while the Naifeh family still had it and before they sold to Jamie and Elisabeth Martin.
It seems there was a story in, perhaps, the Tulsa World about a millionaire waiter. That was Lionel waiting tables. What a guy.
They both were big-hearted. Lionel could seem to be a little gruff sometimes but their philanthropy shows both had big hearts. Lionel has given to anything good happening in Cushing for all his life.
He helped dozens and dozens of families financially and never wanted credit for it.
It was 1995, only a few years after we moved to Cushing, at the annual Chamber of Commerce and Industry banquet, Lionel and Bea Harris were honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. A very nice and thorough presentation detailing the couple’s life of success and giving back.
His contributions to his community through not only Harris Oil but his significant interest in several Cushing banks through the years.
At the end of the presentation, while still seated in his chair, in his gruff strait-talk sort of way, he quietly said, “All I can say is it looks like somebody’s been doing lots of talking.”
That was it. Bea might have said something short and sweet at the microphone when the two got up to accept their award, but that’s all Lionel has to say.
What a guy!
Some may say he was lucky. Some may say he was at the right place at the right time. Lionel, in fact, is an example of what one can accumulate today if they commit themselves to their work.
They worked hard. They saved their money. They didn’t build big houses or drive fancy cars. He worked hard, paid close attention to his business and absolutely had a nose for a deal.
Up until the last seven or eight years, Lionel would come to Bank of Cushing everyday to make his rounds hugging and kissing the gals at the bank. It was harmless, but he sure did love the gals at Bank of Cushing.
I bet they would love to see Lionel walk in today.
Lionel, among other things, had a real passion for the Fairlawn-New Zion Cemetery. Some years ago, had it not been for Lionel and Bea, the cemetery would have been a sadly overgrown and neglected mess.
Lionel would not stand for that. Instead, he provided equipment, provided money and went to the community and the families who have loved ones buried there to gain funding for operations. We expect much of Lionel’s family is buried there as will be Lionel.
For that and hundreds of additional reasons, the cemetery should continue to be well cared for.
We hear about one-of-a-kind characters. Lionel Harris was one. He was the only one like him and there will never be another. Most who got to really know Lionel are grateful that Lionel changed their lives. There is no question that Cushing is a better community because of Lionel and Bea Harris.
What more does one expect of the legacy of their lives? They left the world better than they found it.
Erin BrockovichErin Brockovich will be in Cushing for a town hall meeting at the Cushing High School Auditorium at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
People who believe they have sustained property damage due to earthquakes are urged to attend. Brockovich and lawyers working on the class action lawsuit regarding the 5.0-magnitude earthquake that damaged much of Cushing on Nov. 6, will be on hand to provide necessary information.
Come learn what your legal options are regarding any damage you have sustained.