A kind spirit, a brilliant mind, a twinkle in her eye and a laugh on her lips were just a few things mentioned as people who loved Becky Harris started to work through the process of mourning her death.
Born Nov. 10, 1943, in Stuttgart, the youngest child of Ilma Ovitta and Ward N. Harris, she died on Tuesday night after a long illness. She had two sons, Jim Rhodes of Conway and Jon Rhodes of Hot Springs, and four grandchildren.
Harris attended Hendrix College and was an active alumna. She worked in newspapers most of her life, including at the Log Cabin Democrat.
"She was a character from an unwritten Southern novel," said Rob O’Connor, director of college communications at Hendrix, who previously worked at the Log Cabin Democrat with Harris. "She was one of the funniest, kindest and most intelligent people I’ve ever met. Given her incredible talent and body of work as a journalist, it’s hard to believe — but it really is true — the best Becky Harris stories were told in person, by her, and not in print."
Her journalism career started in Pine Bluff at the Pine Bluff News. From there she went to the Commercial Appeal in Memphis and next ran a small nonprofit newspaper called the Germantown News in Germantown, Tenn. She spent many years in Texas working in newspapers at Bryan-College Station and Abilene. Throughout her career she was also involved in the arts. She moved to Conway about 10 years ago, when she began work at the Log Cabin Democrat.
"Becky Harris was such a wonderful supporter of the arts in Conway," said Jim Wiltgen, executive vice-president of student affairs and dean of students at Hendrix and former chair of ArtsFest Conway and Conway Alliance for the Arts (CAFTA). "She served as the first executive director of the CAFTA, but her support went way beyond that role. Becky touched so many lives in our community and we are fortunate to have known her."
Harris is credited with starting the Conway downtown Art Walk, and as one of the original supporters of Conway ArtsFest, she approached the Conway Advertising and Promotions Committee about funding for the ever-growing event.
Jim Rhodes said of his mother, "Just in a 10 or 11 year period, she was able to accomplish all of this. That was what she did in Abilene. She was always involved in whatever was going on."
Following her first stint at the Log Cabin Democrat, Harris worked at Independent Living Services as director of development.
Jackie Fliss, executive director of ILS, said, "Becky is one of the most unique people I’ve ever met, and also one of the most brilliant. She started working here in November of 2005 and left in January of 2009, so we spent some time together."
Since 2003 Harris was a member of the Conway Noon Rotary Club, where she received a Paul Harris Fellow recognition. Ann Turney of Hendrix College was in the Rotary Club with her at one time.
"I first knew her when I was doing Hendrix publications years ago. The thing about her was her great sense of humor. She said, ‘I’ve moved five times and you (Hendrix publications) always found me!’
"I was so pleased when she moved back to town. She joined Rotary, and I was so glad, because she was such a positive force. She was so cute and funny and cheery. She lifted your spirits. She was a lovely writer. She’ll be missed."
Harris’ friends also observed she also had a tendency to suddenly let very interesting facts about her life slip out in casual conversation. Like the fact she once played chauffeur to writer Kurt Vonnegut.
She was part of the community of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Rev. Teri Daily said, "Becky’s smile and presence lit up a room. We were so grateful to have her as part of our church community and for the light she brought to us. For me it was that sweet presence that she had with her. That’s what I carry away from this, her genuine joy from being with other people."
Courtney Spradlin of Shreveport, La., formerly of Conway, worked with Harris during her second stint at the Log Cabin Democrat, soon after Harris left ILS.
Spradlin said, "I’ve worked for Becky and with Becky. Several years ago when she was head of the arts council I watched her efforts for downtown revitalization in Conway. The arts are a big part of downtown life, and she was at the front of that.
"Her dedication to her community and the arts and local artists is unmatched, though she did it all below the radar. She has been a background champion and supporter, and heavily involved in the development of culture in Conway.
"She added flavor to everything she was involved in. She had great stories, surprising stories. She made everything better. Everyone knew her, and everywhere we went people would shake her hand, give her a hug or greet her by name. It’s because she was such a positive influence on us, always supporting and belonging to the best causes. She was just an all-around interesting and important person. Her surroundings will miss her. Conway will miss her. The arts will miss her. I will miss her."
A Memorial service will be 10 a.m. June 7 in Greene Chapel at Hendrix College. Everyone is invited. Interment will be at Hendrix Memorial Garden.