We knew this day would come but you’re never really prepared to accept it, no matter how inevitable it is. My wife’s father, Michael Harris, passed away on December 29. To call him just my father-in-law doesn’t do justice to the role he played in my life. You’ve gotten to know him a bit through his monthly columns in this newsletter. He loved history and thought our neighborhood would benefit from learning a bit about the past. Growing up in the area, he was deeply rooted in Cheviot Hills and knew it was rich in worthy stories, if only someone would mine for the nuggets and share them with the community. In fact it was his idea to actually do this newsletter and relished his role in providing a column month after month. A grammar fanatic with an eagle eye, he generously proofread all the other articles and offered editorial comments and other helpful notes if pieces veered off track. Providing this service was his joy and recreation. His 9-5 job was that of an attorney in the longest running law partnership in Los Angeles (“Rogers and Harris”) that was never added to or detracted from. He was a real old-fashioned lawyer and handled pretty much anything and everything that came across his desk in a quiet, non-flashy way. He cut his teeth in the business in the early 1960’s by being in-house council for the Mirisch Corporation, handling contracts for big movies and movie stars of the day. That led him to open his own firm with his partner Stan Rogers, a friend he met while they both attended UCLA Law School. Though he was never boastful, I know it was a source of pride that he was named editor of the UCLA Law Review when he was a student there. He also enjoyed his time at Stanford University, however, having felt guilty at the hefty price tag, he made it a point to graduate in three years. None of his higher learning could compare to the glory days he felt while attending Hamilton High School. He loved the friends he met, the classes he took, the wholesome/rah-rah blue jeans and bobby socks image that going to school in the early 1950’s provided. I think to a British family living in Los Angeles, he was living the ideal American dream.
My father-in-law loved this neighborhood. He moved to a home on Glenbarr Avenue in 1944 when he was nine years old and his parents continued living there until they died in 1986 and 2008, respectively. Every Sunday the extended family would gather on the back patio, sometimes friends or neighbors would join, and they’d have a proper British tea-time. If a relative started to seriously date someone, that new person would be invited to come by and that was always the ultimate test of a potential suitor: could he/she withstand the family scrutiny over a hot cup of tea? Pleased to say, I believe I passed that crucial hurdle many decades ago although who knows what kind of gossip was said about me behind my back afterwards (my wife will never admit to this, still).
My father-in-law was my friend, my lawyer and one of my most trusted advisors in all things business. His way of giving advice wasn’t so obvious- he’d never definitively tell me what I should do if faced with a complicated decision or fork in the road. But sometimes just figuring out what HE would do if in the same position was enough to steer me in the right direction. He was not a fan of drama or controversy or prolonged disputes. Early in his career he referred to himself as a “pioneer” because he prided himself on being an “early settler.” Ironic for a lawyer not to be a fierce fighter but he always got the job done and in a way that endeared him to friends and foes alike. I recommended him to everyone who asked for an attorney because he literally knew and handled every facet of the law. The sheer outpouring of condolences from so many of you who used him speaks volumes to his character and what a good guy he was.
I think he got into the law because it was expected of him but if he had asserted himself or followed his dreams, he would’ve been a farmer or a writer. He respected honest and hard work in one of what he deemed were the three essential fields: food, clothing or shelter. A staunch yet non-preachy vegetarian, he took great pleasure in growing a few vegetables and proudly showed off his fledgling backyard crops to his three impressed grandsons. He lived a simple, very unshowy life. The only thing he ever bought for himself that he really, really wanted was a 1961 Morgan convertible. Even though he passed away in December, I think a part of him died the day he gave that car to the boys and me a few months earlier. He loved driving it and treated it like it was a temperamental child: it needing his attention and his cajoling with it to get it to perform appropriately. He watched our excitement at receiving this prized possession, pleased that he was bringing joy into our house but also sad knowing that his failing health didn’t allow him to drive it any longer. I think it gave him peace knowing that we would care for it and love it as much as he did (which we do) and it provided us with plenty of things to talk about the last few months when he was stuck at home in bed.
I guess when it’s all said and done, he lived a great and honorable life. He had a proud and loving family- two doting daughters, a devoted son-inlaw and three fantastic grandsons who adored him. He achieved a dream that was hatched ever since winning the Bank of America award for English while at Hamilton: he became a published author of two books about the Westside of Los Angeles and was working on the 3rd with his brother when he passed away (it will be published posthumously). He was an ideal role model, and great example of someone who knew the difference between right and wrong and always chose the former (but got a kick out of the latter). There will never be another like him and his passing has created a void in this family that will never be filled. Love ya, Mike. Hope there’s a Morgan up there for you to zip around in. We’ll be waving from the one you left behind.