Russell T. Harris Jr., 89, federal court reporter

Russell T. Harris Jr.
Russell T. Harris Jr.
Posted: May 24, 2014

Russell T. Harris Jr., 89, of Philadelphia, a federal court reporter for many years, died Friday, May 16, of dementia at Wissahickon Hospice.

Mr. Harris served in the Navy during World War II and was stationed in Borneo. He graduated from stenography school and in 1955 became an official court reporter for the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Early in his career, Mr. Harris was asked to transcribe interviews filmed by local TV stations. Among those whose words he chronicled were John F. Kennedy before he became president, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and Adlai Stevenson.

Mr. Harris was appointed to work with U.S. District Judge Harold K. Wood. He also worked with Judge Clarence C. Newcomer for 19 years before retiring in 1990.

"He was one of the few court reporters to be assigned to a particular judge. They were usually part of a rotation," said William Armstrong, his partner of 46 years. "It was another era."

Known for the grace and style with which he handled situations at work, Mr. Harris was considered the "dean of federal court reporters," Armstrong said. "He was always well-turned out. There was an aura about him."

When Mr. Harris retired, the federal court gave him a banquet, with congratulatory letters from each judge. There was also a letter from President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara.

"He was thrilled," said Armstrong. "He was the type of person who didn't expect it."

Born in Wildwood and raised in Bristol, Mr. Harris moved to Society Hill in 1965. He was a familiar presence in Washington Square, walking one of his dogs and talking to neighbors or giving tourists tips and directions.

Mr. Harris was a loyal friend. He was "the consummate Philadelphia gentleman," Armstrong said.

A volunteer in the admissions department at Pennsylvania Hospital for a decade, he was on the board of directors of the Coffee Cup, a senior center on 10th Street, and served meals to the elderly there. He was a member of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.

Mr. Harris traveled the world but always returned to Isla Mujeres in Mexico. He carried with him school supplies for the island's children, and supported the local shelter by caring for stray pets.

Mr. Harris was married to Ella Harris. They divorced.

Surviving, besides his former wife, are a son, Kevin; a daughter, Valerie Eve Rizio; and four grandchildren.

Services and interment were private.


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