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Shelter Island Reporter obituary: Robert Lewis Harris

ROBERT LEWIS HARRIS

ROBERT LEWIS HARRIS

At 6 feet, 7 inches, Bob Harris was easy to notice.

He always cut a dashing figure — with his signature tasseled loafers, a brocaded silk vest in summer, a crimson plaid Christmas jacket or some other ele­gant, attention-getting attire whenever the occasion called for it. Unless his work as an attorney for the Landegger family’s pulp and paper concerns required his presence in Europe or another far-flung part of the globe, Bob rarely missed a weekend on Shelter Island, where he bought his house on Cartwright Road in 1976.

Robert Lewis Harris’ journey ended peacefully there on June 20, 2015. He was 77. He had battled hard against leukemia for eight months.

Though he kept an apartment in the city, Bob regarded Shelter Island as home. His love of the Island manifested itself in many ways. He was a generous contributor to numerous Island institutions. Each summer, at the Mashomack dinner dance, he bid vigorously on such auction items as the lobster bake and the Christmas cocktail party. As the bids grew higher and most dropped out, Harris raised his bidding paddle again and again.

On several occasions, Bob and one other bidder dueled it out until Mike Laspia offered to do two cocktail parties or two lobster bakes. The results for both Bob’s friends and Mashomack’s budget were most felicitous.

Bob also frequently served at Historical Society events. He’d pour punch or make brownies or do whatever was needed to make a success of whatever event. He underwrote the production of a book about the collection of Delftware donated to theHistorical Society by the late Gill Patterson. Then, in the last weeks of his life, he also provided the funds to build cabinets in which the centuries-old pieces could be safely displayed.

Bob’s generosity was not limited to public giving. When a friend was throwing a bash or had a birthday or needed cheering for whatever reason, Bob sent flowers — always via Becky Smith at Shelter Island Florist. He also frequently turned up with a platter of lemon squares or a casserole he’d spotted in a cooking magazine — all ingredients purchased at the IGA.

A few years ago, when the husband of an East End friend was going through the rigors of cancer treatment at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, Bob took the subway uptown one evening each week to take the woman out to dinner, thereby giving her a brief respite from the wear and tear of being at her husband’s bedside.

He also quietly participated in clean-up events at Mashomack and took on the role of conservator for a friend who was being swirled into the mists of dementia.

For fun, he kayaked the waters of Coecles Harbor, cooked elaborate and delicious meals to serve at his kitchen table and sailed the Island’s roads in a 1995 Buick Park Avenue, nicknamed “The Galleon” that was carefully restored by a skilled Island craftsman.

His city pleasures included ballet — he was a devoted balletomane and a donor to the American Ballet Theater — the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera. At the opera, he always insisted his guests sip champagne during the intervals.

There were moments, when displeased, Bob could show flashes of asperity, scathing wit or hauteur. But he far more often displayed the playful, curious, loyal and charitable sides of his nature. He particularly delighted in taking special guests out onto the head of one of the Chrysler building’s gargoyles, to view from vertiginous height the marvels of Manhattan below and feel what it must be to be one of the flying gargoyles. Access was via his office door.

Bob was born in the Holly Hills neighborhood of St. Louis in 1937 to Robert Lewis and Faryl Johnson Harris. He earned his bachelor’s degree at DePauw University in 1959 and an M.A. at the University of Missouri in 1964.

After three years on Okinawa with American Express’ banking division, he decided he wasn’t cut out for the financial world and headed to New York. There, for several years, he joined J. Walter Thompson and the “mad men” of the advertising world as assistant treasurer. But that interest too proved fleeting. When he finally finished law school at NYU in 1970, he’d found his calling.

He joined Black Clawson, the Landegger family worldwide pulp and paper machinery enterprise, a few years after completing law school and remained with them until his death. He prided himself on the Rolex watch given him by Carl Landegger, the head of the firm. The watch is engraved on the back, “Thank you. Carl.”

He discovered Shelter Island when the late Robert Braunschweig, also an attorney and a weekend Islander, invited him here to work on a case that concerned them both. Bob looked around, liked what he saw and, a few months later, became an Islander. His parents joined him here after his father’s retirement and remained Islanders themselves until their deaths.

Bob is survived by his wife, Svetlana Kluge Harris of New York, and his brother, Stuart J. Harris of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Plans for a gathering honoring Bob’s memory are incomplete.
— Janet Roach

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