By Cynthia Koons
On Feb. 16, Julia Harris died of old age at the Hillside Manor Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica, leaving her son, his wife Edna and their three children behind.
“She used to make up really great stories,” said Jennifer Harris, one of Julia's grandchildren. “She would take the 'Three Little Pigs' and turn them into the 'Eight Little Pigs' in a house of bubble gum.”
Julia Harris was born in 1902 to Romanian immigrants who owned a thread factory in downtown Manhattan.
“It's the history of Lower Manhattan. The Jewish immigrants and the Italian immigrants lived there,” said Bob Harris, who also is a TimesLedger columnist.
Julia Harris' parents' honeymoon took place on their trip across the Atlantic en route to New York.
As Julia grew up, her family moved to Brooklyn, where she landed the position of first violin in the high school orchestra.
After graduating from high school, she attended New York University for business and arts degrees.
It was during college that she witnessed the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in Manhattan. Labor protection laws were born from that deadly inferno, which also changed the way her parents handled their thread manufacturing business.
Still inspired by school, Julia Harris enrolled in NYU law school and became one of six women to graduate in her class of 150 students. By 1928, she had passed the bar exam and began practicing immigration law.
“Sailors would come in and they'd want to stay and she'd defend them,” Bob Harris said. “She was respected. Some of the judges would say, 'You should be home raising children.'”
After meeting his father, Samuel Harris, who worked in real estate, Julia Harris joined him in the business of negotiating deals. The pair were married in 1930.
Bob, the Harris' only child, was born to the couple while they lived in Brooklyn Heights.
“During World War II she was an air-raid warden,” Bob Harris said.
“The city of New York was blacked out,” Edna, Bob's wife, said.
“Her job as an air raid warden was to make sure lights were out,” he said. “She would look around and knock on doors and if she saw lights, she would tell them to turn it off.”
Julia Harris was also a member of the Eastern Star women's group, an organization associated with the Masons. From 1931 to 1932, she served as president.
“One of the other things, later on in life, was she decided she wanted to write a book about her family,” Bob Harris said, while thumbing through his mother's manuscript. She lived in Windsor Park in Bayside at the time.
Although the work did not get published, it is still part of the family's lore along with the genealogy she compiled. When she turned 100, the family held a large party in her honor.
Since then, Bob Harris has spent his time stopping by her nursing home in Jamaica Estates a few times a week.
“I'd visit her, I'd take her upstairs to the roof and we'd talk about life,” he said. “She could call me everyday. I would encourage her not to call before 9 o'clock in the morning.
“That's what I miss now.”
Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at email@example.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.