Mary Lee Harris, 68, Saw Good In Everyone

Posted: November 27, 1998

Mary Lee Harris was always there - helping homeless children, guiding troubled teens, lending a hand to neighbors in need.

No matter how awful their situations, she always found good in the bad, always found light in the dark, always saw hope when there was none.

The modern-day Florence Nightingale, who was revered by all whose lives she touched, died of natural causes Saturday at her home in Southwest Philadelphia. She was 68.

``She was loved by everyone,'' said Jewel Mann-Lassiter, Harris' sister and a well known caterer. ``She was the kind of person who taught people to give of themselves unselfishly,'' she said.

``She always believed everybody had a good side of them and she was good at finding the good part.''

``She was everybody's mother,'' Mann-Lassiter said. ``She just had that way about her. She was the one to take the stray dog home. Every little stray animal she saw she kept.''

No one knew better than TV news anchor Joyce Evans the kindness and generosity Harris, nicknamed Dolly, bestowed on others. ``If you called her at 3 in the morning and needed her, she'd be there,'' said Evans, who is engaged to marry Harris' son, Ricky Harris, a cameraman for Channel 6.

``No matter how bad the news, she could find the positive in it within seconds.'' Evans said. ``I'd call her freaking out over something and she'd say, `why don't you come on over?' I'd get there and she'd have this spread of food that you couldn't resist. You cried and spilled it out. Then, she'd explain how it wasn't as bad as you thought.''

Curtis Cuff, now 33, met Harris 28 years ago when she became a foster parent to care for him at age 5 until he was adopted.

Then there were people like the girl in her neighborhood who had mental problems, a girl everyone but Harris had given up on. There were also the teen moms she counseled at the homeless shelter, taking their babies from them when they weren't dressed properly and showing them how to dress them right.

Harris was born and reared in Leesville, S.C. She demonstrated a love of teaching at an early age.

She graduated from Bettis Teachers College in Johnston, S.C., in the 1940s and taught public school in Lexington County, S.C., for a year.

In 1951, she moved to Philadelphia, where she later met and married Harry Harris. He died in 1967. They had two children, Antoinette and Ricky.

In 1966, after Ricky reached school age, Harris returned to work as a school community coordinator for the Board of Education. Then, around 1973, she became a social worker with the Get Set Day Care Program, now known as Comprehensive Day Care, until she retired in 1991.

She volunteered with the American Cancer Society. She served as vice president of the Paschall Betterment League, where she and former Mayor Wilson Goode forced the city to open a neighborhood recreation center.

Around that time, she served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Urban League, and was co-founder of the Southwest YMCA Expansion Project, a girl scout troop leader and President and member of the Philadelphia Chapter of Tots and Teens Inc.

A tireless advocate for the downtrodden, she grew restless in retirement in 1991 and began working for a local shelter. In 1996, she began volunteering at St. Barnabas Mission, a homeless shelter in West Philadelphia.

``While she was doing all this, she was still the best mother anybody could have,'' said her daughter, Antoinette Harris-Robinson, a public school teacher. ``She didn't slight us at all. She just did everything with us, exposed us to everything, took us everywhere. Education was No. 1.''

``She was always a second mom to all our friends,'' she said. ``You could talk to her about anything. Anything at all. And she would understand.''

Harris was an active member of Greater St. Matthew Independent Church, in West Philadelphia, where she served as a president of Stewardess Board No.3.

Survivors also include three other sisters, Willie Mae Watson, Ruby Blanks and Shirley Hunter; three brothers, LeRoy Boyd Jr., James Boyd and Herman Boyd. Viewing will be from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at Greater St. Matthew Independent Church, 55th and Race streets. Service will follow.

Interment will be at Mount Lawn Cemetery in Sharon Hill.

MICHELLE ROSE ANN GREAVES As far back as Corin Greaves can remember, his daughter Michelle Rose Ann Greaves, always liked to help others. She was the one her friends turned to for advice when they needed it. She was the one to counsel incoming students at college, the one who volunteered to help make sure all incoming freshman were assigned to dorm rooms, and the one to tutor poor kids in West Philadelphia.

The selfless young pharmacist who cared for those she considered less fortunate, died suddenly Nov. 19 of respiratory failure at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She was 23 and lived in Mount Airy.

An academically talented youth, Greaves graduated from Central High in 1993.

``She was a nice kid,'' said Corin Greaves of his daughter, who graduated in May from the University of the Sciences, formerly the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, with a bachelor's degree in pharmacy.

``She liked to go to the movies and she liked dancing and swimming. She was devoted to her schoolwork and her goal of obtaining her degree in pharmacy.''

For the last four years, Greaves worked as a pharmacy technician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

In addition to her dad, survivors include her mother, Marion Greaves, and brother Corin Michael Greaves.

Service will be at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Phillip's Memorial Episcopal Church at 26th and Wharton streets, where friends may call two hours earlier.

Friends also may attend a viewing tonight from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Powell Funeral Homes Inc. in the 2400 block of N. 27th Street. Burial will be in Eden Cemetery.

ELOISE DURHAM BLACKWELL A service will be tomorrow for Eloise ``Weasel'' Durham Blackwell, formerly of West Philadelphia, who died from cancer at her home Nov. 19. She was 50 and lived in Pennsauken, N.J.

Blackwell, a resident of West Philadelphia until 1993, had attended Philadelphia public schools. She married Kenneth Blackwell, her husband of 27 years, after dating him in the early 1970s. They had three daughters, Gwendolyn Durham, Rhonda Durham, Eva Durham and a son, the late Robert Durham.

``She was a sister who was outspoken,'' said Edward Durham, Blackwell's brother. ``She liked listening to oldies a lot, talking to her friends and having a good day.''

Survivors also include her mother, Rosalie Durham; four sisters, Betty Durham, Vivian Durham, Jeanette Durham and Regina Durham; three other brothers, Michael Durham, Bernard Durham and Erick Durham.

Service will be at 10 a.m. at Phillip Temple Christian Methodist Church on South 3rd Street near Fitzwater, where friends may call one hour earlier. Burial will be in Rolling Green Memorial Park in West Chester.

MABLE `PENNY' SNOWTEN Mable ``Penny'' Snowten always had a kind word and helping hand.

``She was a person of great humility,'' said her daughter Renee Snowten of Philadelphia. ``She was a citizen of the world, truly a good samaritan.''

The retired Yellow Pages supervisor for Bell Atlantic died at her home Sunday of a massive heart attack. She was 70 and lived in Mount Airy.

Snowten, the oldest of four children, was born and reared in Atlanta, Ga. While on a music scholarship at Spelman College in the 1940s, she met Lucius Snowten, who had just returned from serving in World War II. They fell in love and married in 1947, a union that lasted more than 50 years, and produced four children.

In addition to the eldest, Renee, they had Cynthia Saxton-Russ of New York, Valerie Marshall of Voorhees, N.J., and Derek Snowten of Horsham.

In the late 1940's the newlyweds moved to Philadelphia with their firstborn. Snowten stayed home and cared for Renee and the siblings that followed until Renee entered college in 1966. Then, Snowten got a driver's license and a job at Bell Atlantic where she began working in directory assistance and later became a supervisor there before moving on to become Yellow Pages supervisor.

After 24 years of service, she retired in 1990. She and her husband traveled and she devoted her time to church and community service.

She was an election poll watcher and also was an active member of New Bethel A.M.E. Church, where she coordinated and instructed new-member classes and served as office clerk for the church daycare and on the senior steward board. She was recently appointed pastor's steward.

Snowten also is survived by two sisters, Myrtis Language and Betty Watts, and five grandchildren.

Service will be at 11 a.m. today at New Bethel A.M.E. Church on Germantown Avenue near Tulpehocken Street, where friends may call two hours earlier.

Burial will be in Ivy Hill Cemetery.

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