In Memoriam: Mr. Charles S. Harris

Posted on December 11th, 2022 by Cassie Jones

Charles S. HarrisCharles Somerville Harris, recently retired Averett University Executive Vice President and beloved Averett Family member, died on December 7, 2022. Harris served Averett in numerous capacities for nearly 20 years, touching countless students’ and colleagues’ lives.

Harris had a long and distinguished tenure at the University, which began when he joined Averett in 2004 as Director of Athletics after decades of a storied career in collegiate athletics administration. He transitioned to Vice President of Student Services in 2007, and then into the Executive Vice President role in 2009. In this position, Harris oversaw corporate governance, strategic planning and major capital projects, especially construction and major renovations. Upon his retirement last year, Harris continued to work closely with Averett President Dr. Tiffany M. Franks and the Institutional Advancement team, as he and his wife, Lenora Billings-Harris, served as co-chairs on the Averett Ascending Comprehensive Campaign.

“From the interview process (for which he served on the search committee), throughout my entire presidency at Averett, Charles was a trusted advisor, confidant and a person with whom every conversation had a message not to be forgotten. He was a constant rock and loyal beyond measure,” said Franks. “‘Mr. Harris,’ as he was referred to by so many, was an inspiration to help others see ‘their’ possible. Our entire Averett community and every organization he served – and every person with whom he interacted – has suffered a great loss. He was one in a million, and he leaves a bountiful legacy.”

Harris’ career spanned more than 30 years of experience as a university administrator both in public and private institutions, as well as 20 years’ experience serving as a consultant to the private sector. A trailblazer in intercollegiate athletics across the nation, Harris has been recognized with countless prestigious awards. He was the first African-American Director of Athletics at both the University of Pennsylvania and Arizona State University. He also served as the Athletic Director and Commissioner for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. In addition, Harris was also recognized by the NCAA with the prestigious McLendon Award for his achievements while at Arizona State.

“I was lucky enough to know Charles since I was 21 years old, when we served as co-facilitators at an NCAA leadership conference together,” said Meg Stevens, Averett Vice President, Director of Athletics and Campus Operations. “He has helped me grow throughout my entire career. In fact, he is the one that contacted me about the position at Averett. I will be forever grateful for everything he has done for me and for the role he played in my life, both personally and professionally. He was a steadfast mentor who was always supportive.”

Similar sentiments were held by so many who have worked alongside Harris.

“I was so blessed to have worked with Charles at Averett,” said Buddy Rawley, former Vice President of Philanthropy at Averett. “He was a friend and a blessing to me, and will be missed by so many.”

“Mr. Harris was such an encourager, both as a person and as a professional. I am just so honored that I was mentored by him,” said Petrina Carter, former Director of Career Services at Averett. Harris served as her supervisor for a portion of her five years at the University. “You cannot be in his presence and not pick up something. He was a model of a professional, and a model of a great human.”

In addition to his work, Harris was committed to community. In 2008 he was selected to serve on the Board of Directors of American National Bank and American National Bankshares, a publicly traded company. He also served on the Regional Advisory Board of Branch Banking and Trust. He served the community as a member of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Tempe Sports Authority, The Greensboro Sports Commission, President of the Danville Pittsylvania County chapter of Habitat for Humanity and the Foundation board of the Danville Science Center. He was a Life Member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, the Sigma Pi Phi Boule, and is included in the NAACP list of Who’s Who in America.

“It was a privilege to have Charles Harris serve in such a strategic role for our community bank,” said Jeffrey Haley, President and CEO of American National Bank and Trust Company. “Charles was selective about the various groups to which he devoted time, so while the bank was a small part of his life, we are fortunate and forever grateful to him and his family for the time he shared with us. We are deeply saddened to have to say goodbye to such a respectable man who gave so much to the people and things he chose to surround himself with.”

Harris earned a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University in mass media arts. He is a native of Virginia’s Mecklenburg County, and lived in Greensboro with his wife.

Read his full obituary here.

Ensuring the Legacy:
The Charles S. Harris Field House

In 2016, Averett University announced that the future construction of an athletic field house named in Charles S. Harris’ honor. Now, we can memorialize his lasting legacy and honor his remarkable impact not only at Averett, but across the country in intercollegiate athletics.

Harris was the consummate advocate for the student-athlete experience, and he understood coaches in ways that few can. Averett can think of no better tribute than by naming the new field house in his memory, allowing us to share the story of the example he has represented for years to come.

Visit to learn more and to give.

The Tribute Continues

Poised. Caring. Supportive. Professional. Encouraging. Suave. Funny.

These are just a handful of descriptions shared by so many who have worked with and learned from Charles S. Harris. Hear from other members of the Averett Family over time who have been touched by his lasting legacy.

“Charles had a tremendous impact on me. He made my career possible and believed in me before I believed in myself. Charles was an over-believer and had a gift of helping others realize their value. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be enjoying the greatest blessings of my life, including my wife and kids, without Charles’ impact. I’m grateful that God blessed me with a mentor and friend like Charles Harris. He has added a ton of value to my life and I’ll miss him. My condolences go out to his wife Lenora and the countless others whose lives were touched by Charles. We’re all hurting today.”
– Sam Ferguson, former Director of Athletics at Averett

“Charles was always so supportive of me and taught me a lot about leadership and administration.
I will miss seeing him. My deepest condolences for his family and friends.”
– Danny Miller, Deputy Director of Athletics/Compliance

“I met Charles right away when I started at Averett in 2006. He made an immediate impression on me with his booming voice, quick wit and his vision for Averett (and we shared a love for Dansko clogs!). When Dr. Franks arrived a few years later, she initiated the Sunporch Sessions as a way for her to learn about our campus community. One of the questions we had to answer was, “Who do you think embodies Averett?” Without hesitation, I answered Charles Harris! Even now, 15 years later, Charles continued to be the embodiment of all the good things that make us Averett.”
– Ginger Henderson, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs at Averett

“I will forever be grateful for Charles Harris and all that he did for Averett University, as well as me personally. A conversation I had with him during the summer of 2008 opened the door for me to join the Averett family soon after as the sports information director. Throughout my time at Averett, he remained a mentor and friend. He will be missed, but his impact on Averett and its community continues to live on.”
– Drew Wilson, Director of Athletics Communications at Averett

“Charles Harris was a consummate professional, distinguished colleague, and a valued friend and mentor. A trusted resource and listening ear for so many, he will be sorely missed. His mark on Averett is profound, and his legacy will live on through his dear wife, Lenora, and through the countless lives he’s touched throughout his remarkable career and life. I’m grateful for knowing him these past seven years, and blessed to call him colleague and friend.”
– Cassie Williams Jones, Associate Vice President of University Marketing and Communications at Averett

“The impact of Charles Harris is so difficult to express. I was among the throng of colleagues that he inspired and encouraged with his insightfulness. From the very first time I had the pleasure of gracing an Averett Trustee meeting more than six years ago, to a recent encounter a couple months ago, Charles would quietly come next to me, whisper something positive and insightful into my ear, and then he’d gracefully glide away, leaving me with a big smile.  

His encouragement was so prevalent in the life of my grandniece, Aariyanna Britton, as well. She’d say to me, “Today, Dr. Harris told me…,” and she’d then try to live up to his expectations. Charles was not at Averett University simply for himself; God sent him as a role model and advisor for hundreds of others. Though I am sad because of his passing, I am a better person because we crossed paths. Hugs and prayers to Lenora, Lillian, and family.”
– Dr. Annie P. Wimbish, Chair, Averett’s Board of Trustees

“I have many memories I could share, but his one speaks to my last my last encounter with him.

When I transitioned to the role of Director of Alumni Relations, Charles was one of the first people to reach out to me and congratulate me. I was not surprised because Charles was always this first to contact me regarding milestones, promotions, or new student enrollment. I served on the hiring committee when we brought Charles to Averett, and ever since then he has always been supportive and generous to me personally. The day I became Director of Alumni Relations, he reached out to me and offered help to host an event in Greensboro. I wanted to take him up on that sooner, but I was drinking from a fire hose the first few months in my new role. Eventually, I was able to take him up on his offer and we coordinated an event in Greensboro on November 15. Unfortunately, the weather was really nasty that evening and we only had one alumni, Mark Teears ’92, show up for the event. It did not bother Charles one bit. He actually told me “we have to start somewhere, and this is only the first of many more to come.” Little did we all know that three weeks later Charles, would no longer be with us. Charles hosted the event at one of him and Lenora’s favorite restaurants, Char Bar 7. We were treated with amazing service and Charles picked up the entire bill for the evening. Towards the end of the event, Mark excused himself to use the restroom. Charles leaned over to me and said, “Watch this.” When Mark returned to the table, Charles took his Averett pin off his coat and pinned Mark at the table. Mark was surprised and honored because he was unable to attend his Averett graduation. Somehow, Charles had picked up on that fact during his conversation with Mark and made a small alumni event have great meaning. I think this story paints a great picture of the type gentleman Charles Harris truly was.”
– Joel Nester, Director of Alumni and Constituent Relations at Averett

“I first met Charles when I worked for the Chamber of Commerce. Ever witty, poised, and charming I immediately knew that Averett was well-represented by this fine, fascinating gentleman. His shoes also tipped me off that he was not a run of the mill ‘suit.’ He was fierce about his passions and, thankfully for us and our staff, Averett University was one of those passions. When I began at Averett as the Meetings and Events Coordinator I always knew we were in safe hands for an event once Charles was in the building. He looked over every minute detail with a hawk’s eye for imperfection. Where he found it, we fixed it. When he didn’t find it I rejoiced; because if Charles didn’t have any ‘notes’ for me I knew everything was ready to go. Charles was a voice of calm in any storm and a stalwart presence; the very embodiment of the place Averett University holds in the hearts of its faculty, staff, students, community, alumni and friends. He was a real one and I mourn for our loss, for the loss of the other communities he served, and for the unthinkable loss suffered by his strong, elegant, incredible spouse, Lenora. Rest in power, Charles.”
– H. Lynnette Lawson, Executive Assistant to the CFO/COO at Averett

“What a fine and caring man. He was so kind and generous with encouragement for others.

As a faculty member, I had the pleasure of getting to know Charles. On several occasions, Charles helped me with students who had issues in my classes. Usually, all it took was for Charles to have a meaningful conversation with the student and circumstances began to change.

He leaves behind family, friends and colleagues. I was proud to know this man! Peace and prayers for a really great soul!”
– Diane P. Kendrick, Retired Professor of Art at Averett

“Charles Harris (‘CH’ is what I called him), many, many memories of working with you for a long time!  From your smile and the ‘Peggy Sue,’ to your signature clogs with no socks (even on cold winter days!) Your deep voice that always reminded me of James Earl Jones and your steadfast calmness. You will be truly missed. Your impact on Averett University, many others, and me, will always be felt.”
– Dr. Peggy Wright, Co-chair and Professor of Business Administration at Averett

A Storied Intercollegiate Athletic Career

On April 26, 2004, Harris was named the third Director of Athletics in Averett University history. He brought over 25 years of athletic administration to Averett, previously serving as Director of Athletics at University of Pennsylvania and Arizona State University. Harris also served as the commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

He also served as a partner in Excel Development Systems, Inc., a Greensboro, N.C. based management consulting firm that provides strategic advising and crisis management in the sports field.

From 1996 to July of 2002, Harris served as the commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. He initiated and distributed the first full season television package for football for the MEAC. The conference’s net sales revenue climbed from $150,000 to $1.5 million under Harris’ guidance. He is also credited with negotiating the first conference-wide licensing/sponsorship agreement with Nike.

As the director of intercollegiate athletics at Arizona State University from 1985-1996, Harris supervised 130 full-time and 350 part-time employees, while managing an operating budget of $15 million. He initiated the planning, financing and funding efforts for several major projects, including the construction of a $10 million golf course and clubhouse at ASU, a 100,000 square foot athletic office building, and a $12 million football press box with 60 luxury sky boxes.

Harris inherited and successfully guided the ASU program through a period of NCAA and Pacific-10 Conference probation, that at one time included seven separate sports programs. He also instituted a departmental re-organization, founded on the principles of academic success, equity, compliance, and maximum utilization of resources. Harris established a student services unit that has been used as a model by the NCAA and developed a student-athlete Code of Conduct that was subsequently adopted by nearly 50 colleges and universities.

Harris also had an influence on the National Football League. He served on the negotiating team that resulted in the relocation of the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals to the Phoenix area. Harris also participated on a 12-person committee that brought the 1996 Super Bowl to Arizona State.

Harris served as the director of the division of recreation and intercollegiate athletics at University of Pennsylvania from 1979-1985. During that time, the annual giving for athletics increased from less than $100,000 to over $600,000 in only five years. Harris was also credited with helping to bring the first live television broadcast contract to Penn.

He improved the overall competitive successes of the Quaker program from consecutive last place finishes to first place finishes three years in a row. Harris was also responsible for establishing an urban outreach program for student-athletes to provide counseling services to underprivileged children with academic potential.

Harris held many NCAA committee positions, including the Men’s Basketball Selection Committee and chaired the Committee on Financial Aid. He was a key member of several NCAA negotiation committees for television contracts. In January of 2002, Harris completed a term as chair of the NCAA Management Council –this is the most senior position not held by a college or university president in the NCAA hierarchy. He was named to the NCAA Division III Football Committee and began his appointment in January 2005. His responsibilities there included assisting the committee on selecting at-large teams for the tournament and assigning officiating crews to playoff games. Additionally, he assisted in staffing the Stagg Bowl, NCAA Division III’s National Championship game.

A recipient of numerous national and regional awards, Harris was recognized by the All-American Football Foundation for Lifetime Achievement as an athletics director. He was also awarded the Asa Bushnell Commissioner’s Award and served as a national board member of the National Association of College Directors of Athletics. Harris was listed in Who’s Who in America and was recipient of the Outstanding Young Philadelphian Award, and was also named as an Outstanding Young Phoenician.

Harris served as an Assistant Athletics Director at the University of Michigan prior to his appointment at Pennsylvania, and also served as a writer-researcher for Newsweek Magazine.

In 1979 he became the first African-American director of athletics at an Ivy League School and was subsequently the first African-American appointed as athletics director at a Pac-10 school in 1985. He was also the first African-American athletics director in USA South Athletic Conference history.