William R. Harris of Newburyport, Massachusetts, beloved husband of Elizabeth Jones Harris, died from complications of COVID-19 on April 21, 2021.
Born in New York City in 1941, Bill was the son of the late Dr. William A. Horwitz and Dr. Henriette Klein Horwitz, both professors of psychiatry at Columbia University.
He graduated from Harvard College in 1962 and from Harvard Law School in 1966, then taught in a joint graduate seminar under Henry A. Kissinger and the law school. He was also a teaching fellow and tutor in international law and international relations and a research associate at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs, where he met his wife.
In 1972, Bill and his family moved to California where for thirty years he was a senior staff member and international lawyer, then resident consultant for the RAND Corporation. He was known for the breadth and depth of his interests. Much of his early work involved drafting of arms control treaties, verification, intelligence legislation, nuclear proliferation, energy options for the U.S., and legal issues on the use of outer space.
Bill took frequent leaves of absence to work for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and numerous other federal departments, agencies, and presidential commissions. Significant contributions included extension of daylight savings time in the 1970s, upgrading the Moscow-Washington Hot Line and the Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers, developing a framework for the continuity of constitutional government, and creating property rights in access to sunlight.
Though Bill had a busy professional life, he was committed to volunteer activities. He was seldom without pro bono clients, whether “Of Counsel” as a space operations lawyer to the National Reconnaissance Office, to colleagues facing security review, or to groups seeking legal advice on historic preservation projects in various states. He was a founding board member of the Los Angeles Magnet Schools Association and served on the school district’s Integration Advisory Committee in the early 1980s. For years, he coached youth soccer.
Since 2003, Bill and his wife have resided in their Newburyport, Massachusetts house, where they lived decades earlier. He was known there for leading the effort, since 1972, to protect public access to the waterfront via ancient public “wayes” that linked the harbor to the historic Market Square. His pro bono legal work in repeated court cases succeeded in blocking incompatible development projects and helped to place the wayes and some of the land in public trust. Even into 2021, Bill continued his watchdog role and participated in the city’s plans for an expanded waterfront park.
Bill never “retired” but he changed his focus, putting his legal and policy-making skills to use through work on the resilience of critical infrastructures. He served as General Counsel, Secretary, and Director of the Foundation for Resilient Societies; Senior (Legal) Advisor to a Congressional Commission to assess electromagnetic threats to the U.S.; volunteer to InfraGard where he helped establish the National Disaster Resilience Council (NDRC). He is co-editor of the Powering Through series of books on infrastructure and community resilience and author of numerous reports and papers.
Despite his busy career, Bill was always a family man and very involved in his children’s lives. He was continually teaching them – gardening, cooking, waltzing, spackling, you name it – and encouraging their independence. Vacations were for travel: camping in national parks or driving cross country. Most summers were spent in Massachusetts to visit family and restore two historic houses. Bill loved to host extended family reunions at the family homestead in Danvers (complete with lobster cookouts and scavenger hunts for the kids) or annual trips to Hawaii surrounded by his grandchildren. One of his last emails spoke of his pleasure being at “the farm” and concluded, “I love to mow, plant, hear the songbirds, and keep families connected but the twilight years are upon us.”
Bill is survived by his wife of 53 years, Elizabeth; his daughter Darcy R. Harris and her husband Daniel W. Ferranti, of Los Angeles, CA; his son William Proctor Harris and his wife Christine Johnston, of Seattle, WA; his daughter Rebecca Harris Deane and her husband Jonathan, of Newburyport, MA; his four grandchildren in whom he took special delight—Delilah, Gabriel, Nicholas, and Julianna; his sister, Susan Harris Molnar and her husband Tom, of Ossining, New York; and members of his extended family. All will miss his smile, his energy, his love and interest in them, and his storytelling.
ARRANGEMENTS: A private, family burial has been arranged. A celebration of Bill's life will be delayed until it is deemed safe for friends and family to gather. In lieu of flowers, donations in Bill's memory may be made to The Newburyport Waterfront Trust, City Hall, 60 Pleasant St., Newburyport MA 01950, with notation: William Harris Memorial; or to INMA (see inma.salsalabs.org/nonmemberdonate ) noting: in memory of Bill Harris, NDRC. Both are charitable organizations. Assisting the family with the arrangements is the Peterson-O’Donnell Funeral Home, 167 Maple St., (Rte. 62) Danvers. To share a memory or offer a condolence, please visit www.odonnellfuneralservice.com