Irving B. Harris
Although he was known as a businessman, Irving Harris’s true passion was improving the lives of children through innovative solutions to wide-ranging social problems. Mr. Harris understood intimately the connection between groundbreaking research and work in the field and was instrumental in launching several initiatives and nonprofit institutions, including Project Head Start, the Erikson Institute, and the Ounce of Prevention Fund.
Mr. Harris believed in the power of knowledge. He realized the potential of investing in a world-class research enterprise in the heart of the city’s South Side and chose the University of Chicago as a key beneficiary of his time and talent.
Although he had a wide range of interests at the University, Mr. Harris’s greatest commitment was to the study of public policy. He believed that societal tensions could be alleviated through effective social policies. He was dismayed that many of the country’s brightest young leaders who had the capabilities to address these challenges were forgoing careers in the public sphere for lucrative jobs on Wall Street. Mr. Harris led initiatives to launch the new Graduate School of Public Policy Studies at the University and provided the School’s core endowment. In 1990, the University renamed the School in his honor.
Mr. Harris remained active in Harris Public Policy’s programs throughout his life. In 1988, he created the Mentor Program, now an integral component of the school, which matches students with leading policy professionals for one-on-one mentoring relationships in their field of interest. The program is the only one of its kind at any leading public policy institution.
In 1999, he initiated and endowed the University’s Center for Human Potential and Public Policy. The Center integrates research and policy perspectives on improving the health, welfare, and development of children and their families.
Mr. Harris continues to serve as an inspiration to all of those he touched. His legacy of vision and generosity will continue to motivate people to make a difference.