William Thomas Harris departed this life on June 20, 2021 at his home in Orange, New Jersey where he was a long-time resident for forty-two years dating back to 1979.
A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Billy was born on December 14, 1942. He was the fifth of six children born to the late Robert Lincoln Harris and Minnie Mae Walden Harris Raines.
He married Annie Vernell Ferrell Harris on December 21, 1967, and they remained married for the last fifty-three years. Their union was blessed with three children; Bryan Matthew Harris (previously departed in 2003), Kevin Jerome Harris, and Rodney William Harris.
Billy graduated from J.W. Ligon High School, in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1961. During his high school career, he demonstrated exceptional musical talents as a trumpet player in the school marching band. After high school, he attended college at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, North Carolina where he aspired to become a member of the Blue & Gold Marching Machine. During his college years, he also contributed time and energy in support of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Billy participated in student-led sit-in movements to protest racial segregation with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In his pursuit of higher education, he completed two years of undergraduate education before following in his older brother, Robert Harris’s, footsteps by enlisting in the United States Army.
Billy began his military career in 1963. On April 18 1963, he successfully completed the Airborne course at Fort Benning, GA and was a member of the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division specializing in parachute assault operations based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He completed four years of active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States of America and received an honorable discharge from the Army in October 1968. During that same time period, Billy also continued his community activism by supporting the Black Power Movement through his involvement with the Jersey City Black Panthers which included community social programs in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Transitioning into civilian life, Billy began his career with the United State Postal Service in 1968. He worked for the Postal Service for thirty years as an Electrical Engineer. During his tenure with the Postal Service, he became a subject matter expert and innovative thought leader with respect to advancements in automated mail processing technology, bulk mail center sortation equipment, and mail processing infrastructure. At the height of his postal career, Billy accepted a position at the National Center for Employee Development, a technology training center, at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. During his tenure with the NCED, Billy served as a senior instructor, and provided his students with hands-on technical training for Postal employees who managed and maintained high-technology mail-processing equipment, building systems, and computer information networks. He retired from the United States Postal Service in April 1998.
In his recreational life, Billy enjoyed several activities for pleasure, amusement, and fun. He was passionate about the game of tennis and developed himself into a highly skilled amateur tennis player. He spent many weekends and late evenings playing matches with his tennis buddies and practicing his favorite sport at local parks all throughout Essex County. He was well-known in his tennis community for his hard hitting serve, slice forward, signature tongue biting when concentrating intensely, signature paisley bandana tied around the neck, thick sweaty wristbands, and triple wide Wilson tennis shoes.
Billy was an avid and ferocious reader. He loved books, and he was constantly reading several books at one time. He believed in educating himself through reading for pleasure. He was a staunch advocate for lifelong learning. Billy was constantly in the process of learning new skills and acquiring knowledge tirelessly and with tenacity. .
Billy was a lover of computer technology and enjoyed studying about technological advancements.
Billy was also a passionate connoisseur of adult beverages, specifically, Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Brand Tennessee Whiskey. If he truly loved you and you were of age, it was customary for Billy to offer you a shot of ‘Jack’ and chase it with a Miller Lite.
As a resident of Orange, New Jersey for forty-two years, Billy was a good neighbor. He was generous in offering neighbors his time by helping with their lawn maintenance, minor repairs to home appliances, and technical support for personal computers. As a spouse, he was a committed and devoted husband to his loving wife of fifty-three years. He honored the covenant of marriage and his marital vows until his passing. The best decision he ever made in life was marrying Annie V. Harris. She was truly his better half and made him a better man. As a father, Billy wanted the best for his three boys. He practiced tough love consistently, instilled the importance of education into his children, and encouraged his children to strive for excellence. As a grandfather, Billy was generous with his time, imparted wisdom to his grandchildren and was always available to them for phone calls, financial support for their education, and Christmas gifts. As a son and sibling, Billy loved his family and was proud of the Harris family name. He was determined to do his part to uphold the Harris family legacy of perseverance and achievement. His oldest surviving sister Launa Daniel affectionately referred to Billy as a rascal of the first degree. Billy was an adored uncle by his family. He absolutely loved his nieces and nephews and was never shy about expressing his affection for them at every opportunity. His niece Gerri Joice referred to Uncle Billy as a “one of a kind…very cool uncle”. Niece Juanette Watkins loved when Uncle Billy came to town on holidays and in the summer. In her words, “It was like a big flood of play time pouring out of a station wagon.” As a child of God, Billy was a believer. He was raised as a Presbyterian attending church on the campus of St. Augustine University. He made sure that his children were raised and rooted in a Christian home. His views on how to practice and walk-out his faith were unconventional, but he never wavered in his position regarding the importance of having a relationship and communicating with God.
After a life dedicated to family and country, Billy departs this earthly scene to a beautiful home above at the feet of Jesus. He is survived by his wife Annie Vernell Harris who is enjoying her golden years in Charlotte, North Carolina. Additionally, he is survived by his son Kevin Jerome Harris of Charlotte, North Carolina, and son Rodney Harris of Orange, New Jersey. He is also survived by his five grandchildren: Kevin Jerome Harris Jr., Miles Christian Harris, Aquill Rodney Harris, Kalynn Ann Cheresse Harris, and Kristen Marie Harris. He is survived by his sister, Launa Daniel of Columbia Missouri and Brenda Watkins of Huntsville, Alabama. Fond memories will also be cherished by his niece Gerri Williams Joyce (Alan) of Kensington, Maryland, nephew Larry Watkins of Clayton, North Carolina, niece Juanette Watkins of Raleigh, North Carolina, niece Casey Nicole Thompson of Huntsville, Alabama, niece Portia Renee Watkins of Atlanta, Georgia,, his daughter-in-law Cheresse Cheatem Harris of Charlotte, North Carolina, niece Kimberly Porter Fisher of Newark, New Jersey, and niece Vanessa Joy Porter Moore of Newark, New Jersey. Other loving survivors include a host of great nieces and nephews, cousins, and many dear friends and neighbors.
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