Mattingly: UT sports not the only family that Harris touched

In many ways, Haywood Harris was a very private person, a man who didn't try to draw attention to himself, choosing instead to focus on others.

That's just the way he was.

When I talked with his three children about him this past Wednesday and Thursday, I really didn't know what to expect, didn't know where this story might be heading.

I had no doubt there was a story.

The epiphany, the call to arms, came - unexpectedly - from a quick glance at last Sunday's News Sentinel, p. F2.

In a box entitled "A THOUGHT," there was a "pull quote" highlighting Father's Day, saying, "Any man can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a dad."

No one knows who said it, but it doesn't matter.

Finally, things started to click and the story came quickly.

I immediately thought of a moving Lindsey Nelson vignette about the night of daughter Nancy's wedding, when she stuffed a cloth embroidered with those words into his pocket as he left for an overnight flight to a Sunday afternoon baseball game in San Francisco.

Closer to home, this quotation also led me to the example Haywood Harris set for daughter Carol Mayshark and sons Jimmy Harris and Mike Lawson, serving as testimony to the impact a man's life can have, on his family and on his friends.

Marvin West remembered Haywood saying, "This was the first time I ever got children for Christmas," after he and Carolyn Jo were married in December 1979.

It's hard not to smile when you think about that comment. If you knew Haywood, you could almost close your eyes and see and hear it.

For each of the children, the memories were vintage.

"Haywood Harris was the finest person I ever knew," Carol said. "I had the privilege of calling him 'Dad.'"

She remembered a long-ago quote from a man named Clarence B. Kelland, who summarized what fatherhood is all about.

"My father didn't tell me how to live," he wrote. "He lived, and let me watch him do it."

Mike Lawson noticed what Haywood did and remembered it fondly.

"I couldn't have had a better role model," he said. "It says a lot for the man's character to step in and raise a family like he did."

In a time many people work hard to avoid the title "role model," you'd have to imagine that Haywood wore it as a badge of honor. If you wanted to see a role model in action, look no farther than Haywood.

"Character" is a word that often comes up in conversations about Haywood.

Jimmy's critical moment of decision came in 1993, in a part of the Harris home called the "sun room," where Haywood, sitting in a recliner, often held court with his friends. Jimmy told of wanting to change his name.

"I decided it was time to do it," Jimmy said. "He is my father, and I wanted to carry his name.

"We hadn't talked about it for a while. I went out there one night and asked him. I told him what he meant to me and what I'd like to do."

It was a memorable moment, bonding father and son even more, if that were possible. Thus James Robert Lawson became James Robert Harris.

"He was glowing. I don't remember his exact words, but it was very touching, a very exciting moment for both of us."

Jimmy remembered their final conversations, the act of summing up and saying good-bye:

"Every time I left him, whether I was going to the store or going home, I always told him I loved him and that I respected him. I told him, 'Thank you for everything you've done and meant to me.'"

He also remembered what Haywood told him.

"You'll be all right," he said.

There's one final thing.

Each of the three children wanted something said about the outpouring of love that came to their family, from the people who visited, who sent cards, who took the family under their wing, and who generally did all the good things friends should do for other friends.

In composite, it goes something like this.

We'd like to thank everybody, the people we knew and the people we recently met, the people who were his friends, and the people he influenced for the better over the years, for everything they did for our family.

Each of them would also tell you they were better for having Haywood as part of their lives.

Stories, the experts say, are where you find them, sometimes in unexpected places, often right there in front of you.

You just have to know where to look and the right questions to ask.

However all this might have transpired, the destination was well worth the journey.

Knoxville freelance journalist Tom Mattingly wrote "The Tennessee Football Vault: The Story of the Tennessee Volunteers, 1891-2006" (2006), a work now available in second edition (2009) at fine bookstores everywhere. He also penned "Tennessee Football: The Peyton Manning Years" (1998), the Archie Manning-authorized Peyton collegiate biography. He writes a daily Knoxville News Sentinel blog under the name "The Vol Historian." Send comments to

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Comments » 3

TommyJack writes:

Another winner from Mattingly.

richvol writes:

This is writing at it's best...when it stirs you. It's probably been suggested but UT should memorialize Haywood in some way.

AtLeastMyTeamHasPerfectSeasons writes:

in response to richvol:

This is writing at it's best...when it stirs you. It's probably been suggested but UT should memorialize Haywood in some way.

Name that new deck beside the new concourse in Neyland as "Haywood's Hangout".

Sip a few while crowd-watching the 1000's below. Walk over to get another snack while glimpsing a game on one of those new TVs, beneath a 15 ft. Orange sign that says "Haywood's Hangout".

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