Former mayor dies at 88

Special Photo . The funeral service for former Covington mayor and well-known businessman and community leader Walker Harris takes place at 3 p.m. today.

Special Photo . The funeral service for former Covington mayor and well-known businessman and community leader Walker Harris takes place at 3 p.m. today.

COVINGTON -- Former Covington mayor, community leader and businessman Walker Combs Harris died Sunday in his sleep at age 88.

Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. today at Covington First Baptist Church, with the Rev. Len Strozier and the Rev. J.J. Wilson officiating. Interment will follow at Lawnwood Memorial Park.

Harris served as mayor of Covington from 1964 to 1968. He was CEO of Walker Harris Autos for more than 55 years.

He was a past member of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce and Covington Kiwanis Club, a charter member and past president of Covington Lions Club, a charter member and Exalted Ruler of Covington Elks Lodge 1806, and district deputy of the Northeast Georgia Elks Association. He was also a member of Golden Fleece Lodge No. 6 for more than 25 years, past president of the Newton County High Ram Booster Club and past officer of the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association. He was a member of Covington First Baptist Church for more than 80 years.

Harris is remembered by his son Tony as a man with an incredible work ethic that was evident from early on.

When he was just 14, Harris worked at a local restaurant called The Alcove after school. He would work late into the night, sleep on a bed the owners kept for him there and then catch the school bus the next morning. He also worked at a local pharmacy and was found to be so trustworthy by the owners that they had him filling prescriptions at age 15.

"From an early age, he was quite industrious," Tony Harris said.

Harris got into the automobile business by accident. In 1951, he made a trip to Macon to sell a car at auction. After selling it for more than he anticipated, Harris bought another car with the extra money. Before he got the paperwork completed, someone offered him twice what he had paid for that vehicle and he made another sale.

"He had never made money that easy," Tony Harris said, noting that shortly after that, his father opened his own car lot on Washington Street. He stayed there until 1967 and then moved to U.S. Highway 278.

He put his all into that business, which would eventually become known as Walker Harris Chrysler Jeep Dodge, and several others. At one point, Harris owned three businesses: the car dealership, a paving business and a pinball/jukebox machine business.

"His recreation was work. He had no hobbies except work," his son said.

Tony Harris believes his father was motivated by the poverty his family endured during the Great Depression. Both his mother and sister had diabetes, and insulin in those days was extremely expensive. The family wound up losing their farm.

Those tough early years also influenced Harris' wardrobe choice, which was almost always a suit and tie, whether at work or out to eat.

"He said, 'I never had anything' and when he was able to buy clothes, he dressed to a T," Tony Harris said.

Work and family were Harris' greatest passions.

"He was an unbelievable provider to his family in terms of his generosity to his kids and grandchildren," his son said. "He was some kind of guy. He had a good time in life."

Harris suffered two strokes in 2002 and retired from Walker Harris Autos in 2004. Ginn Motor Company purchased the dealership in 2007.

Harris was preceded in death by his parents, James (Jim) and Nora Kitchens Harris; his first wife, Cora Settle Harris; son, Stanley Walker Harris; sister, LaTrelle Harris Edmonds; and brother, Samuel Loyce Harris.

Survivors include his wife, Rosemary Allison Harris; daughter-in-law, Rebecca Dyer Harris; son and daughter-in-law, Anthony Drew and Donna Shadburn Harris; daughter and son-in-law, Marshall and Dawn Harris Atha; and several grandchildren, great-grandchildren, step-daughters and sons-in-law and a niece.

Flowers are being accepted or donations may be made to help purchase Level III vests for the Newton County Sheriff's Office. Checks can be mailed to NCSO, c/o Apryl Jones, 15151 Alcovy Road, Covington, GA 30014, and should be earmarked "safety vests."