Robert Joel “Bob” Harris, M.D., 88, of Columbia, passed away February 11, 2023, in Columbia.
A celebration of life will be held on March 5, 2023, at 2 p.m. at Parker-Millard Funeral Home, 12 East Ash St., in Columbia.
Bob was born on January 20, 1935, to Millard and Lucille (Moore) Harris in Poplar Bluff, Mo., because their hometown of Piedmont in southeast Missouri did not have a hospital. An only child, Bob was doted on by his loving parents and enjoyed spending time in his youth with his train sets in a playhouse, complete with electricity, that his parents built for him behind their home. Bob grew up helping his parents at their dry goods and clothing store, T.W. Harris & Son, in Piedmont. As a youth, he spent months receiving medical care in St. Louis recovering from an eye injury sustained in a slingshot accident, but he never let the fact that he was legally blind in one eye prevent him from doing anything. Bob’s interest in medicine began as a young boy when he would fish with his grandfather and then watch him clean the fish, leading him to discover that he was fascinated by the fish’s last meal and the contents of its stomach more than the fishing itself. He attended Piedmont public schools and graduated from Piedmont High School in 1953, where he lettered in basketball and played saxophone in the band.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1957 from Central Methodist University. Among other honors, he received the Best Actor award at Central Methodist for his role in a school theatrical production. He made extra money in college playing the saxophone in local rhythm and blues bands. He went on to attend medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia, earning a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1961 and completing a residency in pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1964. It was at Mizzou where he met his wife, Jerena “Jerry” Lee Arthur. Bob and Jerry were married on August 20, 1961, in Jerry’s hometown of Rolla, Mo., and made their home in Columbia for all 61 years of their marriage. Frequently, and without hesitation, Bob would tell anyone that Jerry was the love of his life and the best thing that ever happened to him. Jerry worked with Bob as a scheduler and manager for the last 30 years of his medical practice. Two children were born of the marriage, Robert Jeffrey “Jeff” Harris and Julie Lee (Harris) Shaw.
Bob was considered an icon in the local medical community, as one of the longest practicing physicians in the history of Boone County and one of the longest practicing pediatricians in the state. He started his private pediatrics practice in August 1964 in Doctors Park in Columbia and continued to practice for nearly 56 years until his retirement in January 2020 because of illness. He was a founder of Boone Clinic Pediatrics and was later the senior pediatrician at (in a partial nod to his medical school nickname of “Tiger”) Tiger Pediatrics. He was a staff member at Boone Hospital Center and a clinical professor of pediatrics at Women and Children’s Hospital in Columbia.
Throughout his medical career, Bob made a lasting and positive impact on the health and well-being of thousands of children in Central Missouri. As he said many times, pediatrics for him was a passion, not a job. When families could not afford to pay their medical bill, Bob still ensured that his patients received the best care possible. He was there to attend the deliveries of his patients, and he made house calls if needed. There are still families in Columbia where multiple generations – grandparents, parents and children – were patients of “Dr. Bob.” He also served as a mentor and took great pride in training many future physicians.
His concern for the well-being of children extended to his service on the Columbia Public Schools Board of Education, where he served as a member from 1981-1990 and as board president from 1984-1986. As a school board member, he handed both Jeff and Julie their diplomas at their high school graduations. Among other accomplishments as a board member, Bob was instrumental in establishing the Partners in Education program in the Columbia Public Schools.
In addition to his work, he authored two children’s books, The Curly Headed Bird and The Floppy Eared Beagle. He was a lifelong, and sometimes loud, Tigers and Cardinals fan and enjoyed attending Mizzou games with his family. He also enjoyed antiquing with his wife.
Among his many awards and honors were the Distinguished Alumni Award from Central Methodist University, the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Missouri Medical Alumni Association, the Missouri Child Advocacy Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Humanitarian Award from the University of Missouri International Center for Psychosocial Trauma. In 2017, Inside Columbia magazine recognized Bob in the Health Care and Medicine category as one of “The Como 100 Who Have Shaped Columbia.” In 2018, at age 83, Bob received the Columbia Daily Tribune Reader’s Choice Award as “Best Pediatrician.”
In addition to his many accolades, he served as a gubernatorial appointee on the Missouri Children’s Trust Fund, the Safe Kids board and the executive board of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Missouri chapter. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Most of all, he will be lovingly remembered by his family to whom he was forever and unfailingly devoted: wife Jerry; son Robert Jeffrey “Jeff” Harris and wife Katie Perry Harris and children Grace and Ted; and daughter Julie Harris Shaw and husband Stuart and children Jack and Caroline.
The family wishes to thank the caregivers at Bright Star for their care at home and the staff of Columbia Post-Acute for their care. Memorial contributions are suggested to the Dr. Robert J. Harris Scholarship for graduating high school seniors with an interest in medicine. Tax-deductible donations, with Harris Scholarship on the memo line, may be sent to the Community Foundation of Central Missouri, P.O. Box 6015, Columbia, MO 65205.
Arrangements are under the direction of Parker-Millard Funeral Service & Crematory, 12 East Ash Street, Columbia, MO 65203 (573) 449-4153. Condolences may be left online for the family at www.parkermillard.com.