J. Harold Harrison did a lot of hearts good in his day – and his “day” was a 50-year career as a vascular surgeon.
He’s credited with over 7,000 vascular surgeries, and that’s just what we know about.
Now, even after his passing, his heart for Georgia and his beloved Medical College of Georgia continues to do good.
His estate and foundation have given the MCG Foundation an amazing $66 million for student scholarships and faculty chairs – in what is not only the largest-ever gift to MCG, but perhaps in all of Georgia higher education.
And that’s after his having given $2 million a decade ago to endow a chair in vascular surgery – and $10 million in 2010 for the J. Harold Harrison, M.D. Education Commons Building now being built.
More than the essential brick and mortar that he’s made possible, though, it’s the students and faculty that were in his heart. His estate’s and foundation’s monumental $66 million gift will provide several million dollars annually in perpetual funding for students and faculty – those who are privileged to the same medical education that made such a difference in his life.
And in the lives of tens of thousands of others.
Harold Harrison never forgot where he came from, having talked in his later years of MCG having given “an opportunity for folks like me from Kite, Ga., to get an education.” Kite, we’re told, had a population of some 241 in 2011.
He was all of 18 when he entered MCG in 1949. But in that half-century career that followed, and until his death last June, he never forgot MCG. Besides his generous gifts, he also served as MCG Foundation chair in 1974 and ’79.
Dr. Harrison’s life and legacy are a testament to the fact – rarely discussed – that college is so much more than a degree, that a degree is so much more than a paycheck.
A good college experience stays with you the rest of your life. It gets in your heart and soul as only a loved one can. It can be the gateway to a good life, if not a great one. In the case of a medical school especially, a good college experience accrues to the benefit not just of the student but to all of those he or she helps down the road in the profession.
Certainly the same could be true of any profession or any quality education. It’s just that, in the case of health care, it can end up saving lives.
It certainly enriches them, and not just monetarily – although Dr. Harrison obviously did very well on that point, in medicine and real estate, where he apparently was way ahead of the growth curve in Gwinnett County.
For these and many other reasons, the affection and devotion that MCG graduates have for their school will never wane. No amount of time, or name changes – along with Augusta State University, it’s now known as Georgia Regents University – should diminish what the medical school has meant to its students, alumni, their patients or, for that matter, the whole of the Augusta region.
Fact is, Dr. Harrison’s gift will only fortify the school’s future in Augusta.
In his work and in his good works, J. Harold Harrison did more than give back to his alma mater for what it did for him. He repaid it many times over.
But we’re so grateful that he and his family apparently thought otherwise.
The only way we can properly thank him now is to rededicate our community’s commitment to this blessed and vital institution – and, with the abounding aid of the Harrison family generosity, help it continue churning out new, young Harold Harrisons for decades to come.
And for the greater good.