Former students leading Francis Hall campaign to honor mentor

John Harris

John Harris

Tom Owens was a sophomore construction science student at Texas A&M in the early 1970s when he heard John Harris '54 present a lecture that changed his life.

Harris, an executive at Hines, a Houston-based development, investment and management firm, spoke about the key role of developers in creating communities, motivating Owens to enter the field when he graduated in 1973.

Now four decades later, Owens, a senior managing director and chief risk officer for Hines, and other former students inspired by Harris' integrity and professionalism are paying homage to the legendary constructor by leading a fund-raising effort to name the entry way to Francis Hall, the future campus home of the Department of Construction Science, in his honor.

The John A. Harris Entry Gallery will serve as the gateway to the Francis Hall Construction Science Center. Schedule for renovation, Francis Hall is one of the university’s oldest surviving buildings. It was completed in 1918 as the first home of the veterinary studies program.

The Harris Gallery naming effort is part of a $4.5 million fundraising effort by former students and friends of the Department of Construction Science to support the $9 million building makeover.

Owens and Jerrold Lea, Hines’ executive vice president for conceptual construction, have invited many of Harris' personal and professional friends to honor his life and career by contributing to the entry gallery naming effort.

To date, more than 60 donors have contributed a half million dollars to realize the project.

"We are tremendously pleased this space will be a tribute to an Aggie who had such an impact on the construction industry," said Joe Horlen, head of the department, acknowledging the memorial gifts to name the signature space in Harris’ honor.

In a November 2008 obituary, The Engineering News-Record described Harris as “a pioneer in commercial development around the world."

After graduating with a degree in civil engineering in 1954, military service and work in Houston area construction firms, he began a 42-year career with Hines in 1966.

As executive vice-president in charge of the firm's Conceptual Construction Group, Harris worked with the company's visionary founder and chairman Gerald D. Hines overseeing construction projects around the world, implementing Hines' philosophy that high design and practical construction solutions can work together to create great buildings.

Harris worked on some of Houston's most famous buildings, including Pennzoil Place, the Galleria, Wortham Theater Center, One Shell Plaza and St. Luke's Medical Tower. His work with Hines also changed skylines in 16 countries around the world.

Owens said Harris was a tough but fair taskmaster who brought out the best of architects, contractors and subcontractors.

"So much of the professionalism we have came from the standards he set," said Owens.

Through their support, donors to the John A. Harris Entry Gallery seize an opportunity to inspire that same level of professionalism and integrity in future generations of Aggie constructors.

To learn about naming opportunities or contributing to the Francis Hall renovation project, visit the Department of Construction Science' building campaign website.

posted August 9, 2012