Harry Sampson Huggins

Harry Sampson Huggins

Died August 19, 1998

Harry Huggins, a lifelong baseball fan, discriminating jazz and opera lover, and enthusiastic patron of African-American artists, was born July 7, 1943 in New Haven, son of immigrants from Nevis, West Indies. President of his senior class at New Haven’s Hillhouse High, Harry majored in philosophy at Yale.

After graduation, Harry taught English in the Peace Corps in Tunisia for two years. Coming back to the States, he earned an M.A. in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina in 1971. While there, he served as an intern with the Southern Education Foundation at Shaw University, following his interest in the historically Black colleges.

After adding an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, Harry embarked on a long public sector career as an educator, researcher, administrator, city planner and policy analyst, working in New York City’s Human Resources Administration, then directing Chicago United’s Urban Programs, the Seattle City Council’s Legislative Budget Office and the Executive Administration of King County, WA.

Harry left Seattle and the public sector in 1987 to join the Bank of America in Concord, CA as a finance manager, working there until someone left a Xeroxed picture of a hangman’s noose on his desk. When Harry complained of racial harassment, bank officers said they couldn’t identify the culprit. He responded by reporting the ugly incident to the FBI, and when their investigation linked the picture to a specific copying machine, the bank offered a financial settlement, and Harry began his own management consulting practice in Walnut Creek, CA.

Harry had a knowledgeable appreciation of art, architecture, and design. He read voraciously, possessed a sharp wit and a quick intellect, and kept himself politically aware and informed. Everywhere he lived, Harry created instant circles of loving friends who cherished his humor and hospitality. He loved to gather friends and family members at long dinner tables for evenings of good food, talk, and laughter that none of the fortunate participants ever forgot.

When Harry died on August 19, 1998, hundreds of family members and friends attended memorial services for him at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in his hometown, New Haven, and in Walnut Creek, CA and Seattle, WA.

All his life Harry mentored countless young people who appreciated his generosity, his wise advice and high standards. This dedication to helping young people led three of Harry’s nieces and one high school classmate to found the Harry S. Huggins Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, a fund that provides college scholarships annually to two students from Hillhouse High. Over a hundred of Harry’s Hillhouse and Yale classmates, Seattle, San Francisco and New York friends, as well as many relatives, contributed to the Fund.

To date, Harry’s fund has supported eighteen students, African-American, immigrants, and refugees, with $4,000 awards for their four years of college. Nine have already graduated from college – one of them from Yale, and nine more are still undergraduates.

“Harry was a very special person to me as well as to Ron,” says Sandy Wilmore, wife of Ron Wilmore (Y’65). “The thing that always struck me about Harry,” another friend, Fred Bamber (Y’65), says, “was his personal dignity.” Here is a fragment of a memorial tribute delivered by Michael Lydon:
“Harry was a great friend, good at keeping in touch, interested in everybody’s latest news, entering into and encouraging all our best hopes. He always greeted me, as I think he greeted many of us, with, ‘Ah, Michael, my OLDEST and dearest friend’ – teasing me with the accent on ‘oldest’ but with the affection in the ‘dearest’ coming through loud and clear. We will always love Harry, and we will all continue to have Harry in our hearts, guiding us, teasing us, helping us become the people he knew we had it in us to become.”

Michael Lydon remembers: In the spring of 1964, our junior year, a letter came to the Daily News office from the Ford Motor Company. They were introducing a new sporty model, the Mustang, and they were inviting editors of college papers for an overnight in Detroit, a tour of the Ford offices and assembly plant, and then we could each drive a brand new bright red Mustang with a cream-colored convertible top and keep it for six weeks.

Al Sharp, the News Chairman (the top editorial position), didn’t want to take such a commercial handout, but I had no such qualms, so Al said, “Okay, Michael, you go.” And I did, flew in a jet for the first time, met a bunch of college editors (including Rick Hertzberg from the Harvard Crimson), then drove back to New Haven, getting stares and compliments and questions at every rest stop.

Back at school, I was finally cool, and all my pals wanted to get a ride or a drive. My attitude was: the car isn’t doing anybody any good parked, so the little red beauty was in motion every day – 10,000 miles in six weeks!

Perhaps the most fun we had in the ‘Stang as we called it was two trips that Fred Bamber, Harry Huggins, and I took, one Saturday up to Massachusetts for the boat races, (I got two speeding tickets), then that evening we made our way over to Vassar. As we drove the sunny spring afternoon turned into a sweet quiet evening. We seemed to have the road to ourselves, we floated more than rode, and the three of us felt a magical sense of togetherness, not saying much, but just enjoying being young, free, and cruising on our own.

Only a week or two later the same trio headed out again, this time first to Bennington, then on northward through Vermont to Canada, briefly stopping in Montreal, then further northeast to Quebec. Fred, Harry, and I again felt this comradeship of being on the verge of adulthood, on an adventure, not talking much as I remember, but deepening our friendship with every passing mile.

One of us would get the room in the motels, then the other two would sneak in. Coming home down through New Hampshire, we were running out of both money and gas, so Fred taught Harry and me how to “econo drive,” as he called it, finding an even mid-speed pace that, Fred said, used much less gas than speeding up and slowing down. A few times we tried to get gas from closed down gas stations, maybe it worked, maybe not. Last stop: Cambridge where, through a pal, I found us a room in Eliot House. The same pal gave us a few bucks for gas – in those days we could sometimes find gas for 19 cents a gallon – and we made it back to New Haven.

Fred Bamber and I are still going strong, but slender, handsome Harry died, sadly, in the summer of 1998. Fred and I still talk about his low-key sense of humor, his easy-going smile, his casual but impeccable sense of style. We three stayed in good touch through the years, and Fred and I were able to visit him in the San Francisco Bay area just a few months before he died. Then he was weakened but still himself, and we three spent the afternoon chatting, then went out to a laugh-filled dinner. When we said goodbye, we all knew it was undoubtedly the last time, but we kept smiles on our mugs and hugged each other close.

God bless Harry Huggins! I can still see the three of us in the ‘Stang floating around the curves of the New England roads, the radio tuned to Motown hits, the shadows of evening lengthening, our conversation down to the little nothings that between friends mean everything – all so clear in my mind; it could have been yesterday!

Ronald Wilmore remembers: My fellow New Haven, black classmate, Harry Huggins was one of the classiest friends I have ever had. His dry wit had Sandy and me laughing for hours at a time. He was a life saver during my freshman year English class as I struggled to write my assigned papers. Thanks to him I eventually did well in that class and went on to be an English teacher in private school and public school. He was at the wedding of Sandy and me, having just returned from the Peace Corp, and was there to witness the beginning of our fairy- tale marriage. He went on to become one of Sandy’s most treasured friends as well as mine. Being with Harry was always a special treat because he was so knowledgeable about so many different subjects. Although we never lived in the same city after our time in New Haven, we remained important parts of each other’s lives. We were friends starting in our junior high school years. I will never forget the joy he got out of occasionally calling me by my childhood nick name,Tubby. Sandy and I miss him very much.