Margaret F. Harris

Margaret F. Harris, a longtime member of Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church who sang with several gospel choirs, died Sept. 3 of cancer at Season's Hospice at Northwest Hospital Center.

The Randallstown resident was 81.

The daughter of a mason and a gospel singer, Margaret Frances Wells was born in Ottawa, Ill., and moved in 1935 with her family to a Carey Street home.

After graduating in 1948 from Frederick Douglass High School, she studied radiology and in the early 1950s worked as an X-ray technician for the Baltimore City Health Department

After marrying James E. Harris Sr., a postal worker, the couple became active members of Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church, where she was a member of the deaconess board and also a communion stewardess.

Her husband died in 2002.

Active with her husband in the church's Alpha and Omega ministry, the couple visited the sick and the elderly living in nursing homes. She was an active member of the Wednesday Night Bible Class and also organized rallies during the Women's Season.

Mrs. Harris came by her lifelong love of gospel music naturally.

Her mother was Pauline Wells Lewis, known to thousands of Baltimore gospel fans as "Aunt Pauline" or the "Godmother of Gospel" during her 50-year career as a radio show host and gospel singer.

In the 1930s, her mother and several sisters formed a gospel group, the Western Song Birds. During the 1940s, her mother and a sister, Sylvia Person, sang as a gospel duet on the "Open Heart Hour" each Sunday on WANN-AM in Annapolis.

Mrs. Harris brought her strong distinctive alto voice to the Sanctuary Choir at Gillis, of which she had been a member of for more than 65 years. She also sang with the Gillis Combined Choir and Mass Choir.

"Her voice was incredibly noticeable," said the Rev. Theodore C. Jackson Jr., pastor of Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church.

"She had been a member since the old days when we were at Stockton and Baltimore streets. Now, we're on Park Heights Avenue. Her mother was the backbone of my church and had been my secretary," said Mr. Jackson.

"She was one of the best church members I had. She was a tithe-paying member and very loyal. Even when she was sick and dying, she was still paying her dues. There are some folks who don't do that when they're alive," he said.

She also was a member of the Pauline Wells Lewis Legacy Mass Choir and the Revelation Choir at New Rose of Sharon Baptist Church on Carey Street, whose pastor, the Rev. Julia Virginia Lewis is Mrs. Harris' cousin. "She was just a beautiful person," Mrs. Lewis said.

"She could really sing it. We started singing as children and even though we were cousins, we were like sisters. She didn't have a sister and neither did I," recalled Mrs. Lewis.

Mrs. Lewis said her cousin brought her distinctive gospel musicality to all her work.

"I would point to 'I Decided to Make Jesus My Choice,' 'The Battle is Not Yours, It's the Lord's,' and 'Great is Thy Faithfulness,'" said Mrs. Lewis.

"We're a musical family. On July Fourth at a family gathering, we all got together and sang all of the patriotic songs and then hymns," said Mrs. Lewis. "She was still singing right up to the end with us. She sang two days before her death."

Mrs. Lewis described her cousin as being "very kind and quiet" but forthright.

"When Margaret spoke, she meant what she said and could be a strong force," she said. "She was the kind of person who was always giving others encouragement both inside and outside of the church. She was my closest relative, and God knows I'm going to miss her."

Mrs. Harris enjoyed writing poetry, crocheting and collecting elves and angels.

Before moving to Randallstown several years ago, Mrs. Lewis had lived at the Bernard E. Mason Apartments near Leakin Park.

Funeral services will be at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at her church, 4016 Park Heights Ave.

Surviving are three sons, Aaron Stewart of Baltimore, and Rodney Harris and Keith Harris, both of Irvington; three daughters, Deborah Faulk of Baltimore, Deidre Lewis of Randallstown and Quandra Yoni of Catonsville; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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