ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) — To some, Elizabeth Harris is best known as the woman who stood behind former Rep. Patrick B. Harris, a state legislator who was a tireless advocate for South Carolina’s veterans and mentally ill.
But to hundreds of Anderson County’s students, Lib Harris is known as the patient woman who taught them how to sew.
On a recent Friday, she was honored by students from the Anderson Girls High School and the Anderson Boys High School. She was a home economics teacher for the girls, and at 101, is the last living teacher to have educated students in the Class of 1948-49.
For 64 years, members of that class have been meeting for a combined high school reunion. They call themselves the Class of 1948-49 because a 12th grade was added as a school system requirement shortly before the class graduated.
Some of the students took advantage of a chance to enroll in extra courses and graduate in 1948, while more than 200 of the students finished school in 1949. Those students are all in their 80s now, but many of them still have favorite memories of Harris.
“The first skirt I ever made, I made in her class,” said Alva Jo Moore Zeffiro. “It was a green skirt — out of kind of a chintz cloth. She showed me how to make it and how to press seams into it, bless her heart. I was in the ninth grade, but I managed to make it stay together.”
Zeffiro and many of her surviving classmates gathered at the La Quinta Inn in Anderson to reminisce with one another and with their teacher.
Harris has trouble hearing now. But her son, Pat, sat beside her and typed the students’ kind words about their beloved teacher into his cellphone, then handed the phone over to his mother to read so she would know what each person was saying.
She graciously thanked them all.
She accepted dozens of hugs.
She clasped hands and patted backs.
And when she got a standing ovation from dozens of students who still love her after more than 60 years, she was so overcome that she had to wipe tears from her eyes.
Her husband died in 2001 at the age of 90. Anderson’s regional psychiatric hospital bears his name.
But Lib Harris’ son says her name is imprinted on many places, too: dozens and dozens of former students’ hearts.
She taught at the high school for girls and Anderson Junior High, now known as McCants Middle School. She retired for the first time after 40 years. But she returned as a substitute teacher and taught homebound students until 1997.
“It never fails that people remember her,” her son said. “We’ll be out at lunch and somebody will come up to her and begin to tell her some memory they have of one of her classes. She has touched so many lives.”
Betty Singleton Wright was just a teenager when she first crossed paths with Harris. That was more than six decades ago.
“I am so glad I was able to be here, just to get out and see her,” Wright said. “Mrs. Harris wanted the best from us and she did what she could to get it out of us. She had such a gentle spirit — the kind that children respond to. She was precious then and she is precious now.”
In a Friday, May 31, 2013 photo, Jo Zeffirs, right, a graduate of the Anderson Girls High School in 1949, talks with her former teacher Elizabeth Harris during a reunion for the Anderson Boys and Girls High classes of 1948 and 1949 at the LaQuinta Inn in Anderson, S.C. Harris, who is 101-years old, is the last surviving teacher of those classes.×