Percy Gene Harris, M.D., 89, of Cedar Rapids, died peacefully in his home on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. A private burial took place on Wednesday, Jan. 25, in Oak Hill Cemetery, Cedar Rapids. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 1340 Third Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids. The Rev. Sherrie Ilg, lead pastor, will officiate. Visitations are from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Cedar Memorial Park Chapel of Memories Stateroom, 4200 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids, and at 10 a.m. Monday at the church.
Percy's survivors include his 12 children: Bruce Anthony (Marc Boisclair) Harris of Chatham, N.J., David Percy Harris of Cedar Rapids, Lileah Furgerson (Lennox Randon) Harris of Cedar Rapids, Peter Christopher Harris of Tarzana, Calif., Philip Lee Harris of Evanston, Ill., Paul Norman (Michelle) Harris of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Mark Steven Harris of Los Angeles, Anne Harris Carter of Cedar Rapids, Sarah Beth Harris of Cedar Rapids, Matthew Clark Harris of Minneapolis, Grant Andrew (Queta Beasley) Harris of New Orleans and Rebecca Roundtree Harris of Long Beach, Calif.; his grandchildren: Emily Hartfield Harris, Caroline Hartfield Harris, Corinne Hartfield Harris (and their mother, Claire Hartfield), Christopher Daniel Harris, Elizabeth Sarah Harris, Andrew Ryan Harris, Kathryn Pauline Harris, Evelyn Ruth Carter, Rebecca Anne Carter, David Joshua Carter (and their father, David Salvatore Carter), Lileah "Lily" Yamina Harris and Chad Aubrun Beasley Harris; his great-grandchild, Savannah LeAnne Carter; his sisters-in-law: Betty Jean Furgerson of Cedar Rapids, Rebecca Sue Furgerson Sloan of Lakeview, Ohio, and Penny Furgerson of Des Moines; and numerous nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Lileah (nee Evelyn Lileah Furgerson); his parents; his sister, Hilda Harris Heading; his brother, Norman Henry Jr.; a sister-in-law, Martha Ann Nash; brothers-in-law, Lee Burton Fugerson Jr. and Warren Nash; and a grandchild, Lark (Alou) Lileah Harris Randon.
Percy was born Sept. 4, 1927, in Durant, Miss., the youngest son of Norman Henry and Glendora (Clark) Roundtree. His father died in an automobile accident when Percy was 2 years old, and his mother died of tuberculosis when he was 12. After the death of his mother, he lived in Chicago, and then moved to Waterloo, Iowa, where he was raised by his aunt, Blanche Hoosman. After graduating from East High School in Waterloo, Percy attended Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa). He married Lileah in 1950, and they moved to Washington, D.C., where he attended Howard University, from which he obtained his bachelor's degree. He obtained his M.D. from Howard University Medical School in 1957, serving as class president all four years.
He, Lileah and their four oldest children moved to Cedar Rapids in 1957, where Percy was the first black intern at St. Luke's Hospital. The family lived in a house owned by St. Luke's, across the street from the hospital. Percy served as assistant of Intern Education at St. Luke's. He cared for patients at both St. Luke's and Mercy hospitals. He also saw patients at the Visiting Nurses Well-Baby Clinic. He opened his first office of general practice in medicine and surgery in the Guaranty Bank Building in 1958. For most of his practice he shared a medical laboratory with Dr. Maurice Estes.
In 1961, Percy and Lileah were having a difficult time finding a larger house for their growing family because of racial discrimination in housing. St. Paul's, in a controversial vote, agreed to sell property on Bever Avenue to the Harrises, property which department store owner Robert Armstrong had donated to the church. They moved into their home in 1963 and remained there until their deaths.
After serving as Linn County deputy coroner and then coroner, Percy became the first Linn County medical examiner and remained in that post for nearly 40 years, a particular highlight in his career. He was officer of the Community Mental Health Center of Linn County, a member and vice president of the Linn County Medical Society, chairman of St. Luke's Audit and Utilization Review committee for more than 13 years, St. Luke's Medical Records Committee chairman for 10 years, and ultimately, president of St. Luke's medical staff.
As president of St. Luke's medical staff, Percy led the team that brought open heart surgery to St. Luke's in 1976. He received the Mercy Medical Center Gold-Headed Cane Award with the title Medical Laureate in 1998. After seven years on the St. Luke's Hospital Board of Directors, he was honored with emeritus status. In 2016, he received the Pioneering Physician Award at St. Luke's.
Percy retired from his medical practice in 1999. Upon his retirement, The Gazette wrote, "His patients will tell you they are losing a rare doctor and friend. They describe a man who was in step with the latest in diagnosis and treatment, but old-fashioned in the way he cared about their emotional, as well as physical health and would always spend a few extra minutes or hours caring for both. The same can be said on behalf of his oldest and biggest patient, his community. It owes him a vote of thanks for his help, his caring and his gentle but firm guidance, and best wishes for a long, happy and productive retirement."
The University of Iowa Alumni Association stated, "...many noted that Harris would be missed because of his seemingly boundless empathy, not only for his patients, but also for every human being he meets." Sen. Tom Harkin told the U.S. Senate on Nov. 3, 1999, "Dr. Percy Harris is one in a long American tradition of medical practitioners, who put patients before profits, who led by example, and who dedicate themselves to the well-being of humankind, from their community to their nation."
From the beginning, community service was a priority for Percy, including numerous leadership roles. He was a founding member and president of the Cedar Rapids Negro Civic organization, president of Cedar Rapids chapter of the NAACP, member of Black Culture Advisory board at Coe College, president of Jane Boyd Community House board, member of Kirkwood Community College Medical Advisory Committee, board member and president of Hawthorne Hills Low Cost Housing and member of United Way Executive Nominating Committee. He held positions with many other charitable and civic organizations. In 1977, Gov. Robert Ray appointed him to the Iowa Board of Regents. Percy was the first black member and served two terms.
His leadership extended to the business community, where he was founder, president and CEO of Cedar Rapids Community Cable and served as the board president and chairman of Oak Hill Engineering. He also was active with Oak Hill Jackson Economic Development Corporation and developed many friendships in his role as company physician for employees at General Mills and Harnischfeger.
He received the following awards and honors: NAACP Community Service Award, B'nai Brith Community Building Award, NAACP Outstanding Citizen, induction into the Iowa African American Hall of Fame, President's Award from St. Luke's Hospital, Iowa Medical Society Physician Community Service Award, African American Museum of Iowa History Maker and many others.
In 2010, St. Paul's United Methodist Church established the annual Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Who Is My Neighbor? Award.
Percy loved sports, and for many years he served as the team physician for the Jefferson High School football team and the local minor league baseball team. He was an avid fan and supporter of the Hawkeyes, opening his home to the black football players in the early '60s, and holding season tickets for over 50 years. In 1967, he convinced his twin sons to switch their loyalties from the San Francisco Giants (the team of black baseball player Willie Mays) to the Chicago Cubs. He lived long enough to see the Cubs win the World Series.
He and Lileah had many close friends, and tremendously enjoyed their trips abroad together. The family's genealogy also was a passionate interest of Percy's.
Percy was beloved by his community and regarded with reverence. He delighted in conversing with anyone and everyone, and was known for his vision, integrity, determination and especially his compassion. From humble beginnings, his life serves as an inspiration and model of excellence as a father and family man, physician and civic leader. Percy loved Cedar Rapids and he loved serving others. He once said, "I never became a psychiatrist. But I think over the years I have been able to help people. Even more than that, people have helped me. I'm not a rich man by any means. But when it comes to friends, I'm a multimillionaire."
Please leave a message for the family on the webpage www.cedarmemorial.com under obituaries.
Memorials may be made to:
Lily Nina Furgerson Endowed Scholarship Fund, UNI Foundation, Financial Services, 121 Commons, Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0282
Jane Boyd Community House, 943 14th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
St. Luke's Foundation, 1026 A Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52402
Mercy Medical Foundation, 701 10th St. SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403