Roosevelt R. “Butch” Harris Sr., a former grocery clerk and cashier who later had a second career as a long-distance truck driver and was active in his church, died of congestive heart failure April 10 at his Northwood home. He was 74.
“Butch was definitely a very spiritual person and a student of the Bible and was very active in the church until his health began to decline. He was ready to go home and he was saved,” said Vincent Edwards, a fellow member and elder of Full Gospel True Mission Church.
“He was down-to-earth and a good family man. He was a person you wanted to be around and was easy to talk to. He was always upbeat, friendly.”
Roosevelt Raymond Harris Sr., son of Callie Marie Marshall Jenkins, who worked in a dry-cleaning establishment, was born in Baltimore and raised on Montford and McKeen avenues.
He attended city public schools and later dropped out of Samuel Lemmel Junior High School when he was in the eighth grade, but that did not extinguish Mr. Harris’ dream of graduating from high school. At 49, he obtained his GED diploma.
In 1964, he commenced a 21-year career as a member of the Retail Clerks Union, where he worked as a grocery store clerk and cashier for Food Fair, Food-A-Rama and Safeway grocery store chains.
When some of the stores closed, Mr. Harris began a second career in 1986, when he attended a tractor-trailer driving school, earned a commercial driver’s license and began driving locally for Frank A. Serio & Sons, a Baltimore trucking company.
For more than two decades, Mr. Harris, who then became a long-distance truck driver, crisscrossed the country driving for J.B. Hunt, Cowan, Superior and Broadway trucking companies, while taking in the country’s ever-changing natural beauty of mountains, valleys, deserts and rivers.
“As a lover of geography, he regularly sent home postcards to family, telling them of specific points of interest on his travels,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family. “He also sent postcards directly to the classrooms of his children, which the teachers shared with the students. They learned geography through his travels and different points of interest.”
When company policy allowed, he’d take his wife or children on his motorized perambulations, which they “thoroughly enjoyed,” family members said.
Mr. Harris retired in 2012, said his wife of 57 years, the former Naon T. Pitts, a retired paralegal.
Deeply religious, Mr. Harris became interested in Bible study and began memorizing Scripture when he was a teenager. In 2002, he received his ministerial license from the Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith, which stimulated his desire to teach.
As a member of Full Gospel True Mission Church, Mr. Harris served on the usher board, was soloist with the choir, taught Sunday school and was an active member of the brotherhood.
“He soon realized that his ministry would be one-on-one or in small group sessions as he traveled across the states, and not confined to a pulpit,” according to the profile. “Roosevelt was not a complicated man, but his life presented him many challenges, which he surmounted. He had the ability to reach past race, religious beliefs and politics when it came to making friends.”
Family members said Mr. Harris’ network of friends included Muslims, Black Israelites, Native Americans, East Indians, whites, Blacks, Jews, Africans, Asians, Hispanics and Italians.
When working in supermarkets, Mr. Harris, a powerful speaker, would often extend “salvation invitations” to co-workers, family members said.
“In one such session, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, who worked with him, stated, ‘I can’t believe that I’m standing here listening to you talk, and I can’t even move,’” according to the profile. “He was able to sit and talk with them, and never offend, or be offended.”
“Butch was a real smart guy and very charismatic,” said Nathan Pitts, a brother-in-law, a former Baltimore Sun newsroom staffer and chairman of deacons at Greater St. John Baptist Church in Turner Station. “He was happy-go-lucky and a people person. You know the old saying, Butch never met a stranger or a stranger he hadn’t met yet.”
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Mr. Pitts added: “He was well-read when it came to the Bible and he’d call me up and we’d talk about corresponding Scripture and how they related.”
Mr. Harris was an enormous fan of gospel music, and some of his favorite groups or singers included The Winans, Walter Hawkins, Tramaine Hawkins and Wintley Phipps. Other musical interests included country, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll and opera, his favorite singer being Luciano Pavarotti.
Mr. Harris was also an Orioles and a Ravens fan, and fluent when it came to citing baseball statistics. He also enjoyed playing cards, building models, drawing and model railroading.
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A devoted family man, Mr. Harris helped with homework and school projects and never missed a birth, graduation or any other important moment, and was extremely proud his five children were all college graduates, family members said.
“Butch was a great dad and the love of my sister’s life,” Mr. Pitts said.
Funeral services for Mr. Harris will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Huber Memorial Church at the Huber Community Life Center at 5700 Loch Raven Boulevard in Ramblewood.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Harris is survived by three sons, Roosevelt R. Harris Jr. of Baltimore, Armahn Harris of Joppa and Raymond Harris of Triangle, Virginia; two daughters, Michal Thornton of Aberdeen and Shannon Paige of Richmond, Virginia; his mother, Callie Marie Marshall Jenkins of Baltimore; a brother, James Harris of North Carolina; 16 grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.