Sylvia 'Cookie' Harris, advocate, wife of congressman, dies unexpectedly

Sylvia "Cookie" Harris (second from left) stands next to husband Rep. Andy Harris (center), and surrounded by (left to right) daughter-in-law Carolyn Harris and daughters Irene and Rebecca.

Sylvia "Cookie" Harris, the wife of Rep. Andy Harris and a prominent anti-abortion advocate in Annapolis, died suddenly on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the congressman said.

Mrs. Harris, who would have turned 58 this weekend, was a frequent presence in Annapolis, where state lawmakers said she was a forceful advocate for causes she believed in, particularly anti-abortion policies.


"She was an amazing and wonderful woman, a fabulous mother and very supportive of Andy in all that he did," said Diana Waterman, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party. "But she also had her own causes and was very dedicated."

A native of Puerto Rico who studied elementary education at what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University, Mrs. Harris raised five children and was a grandmother of two. She lived in Cockeysville.


The cause of death was unclear.

Lawmakers in Annapolis got to know Mrs. Harris first through her husband, an anesthesiologist-turned-lawmaker who rose to minority whip in the state Senate before he was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010. But Mrs. Harris gradually became a force in her own right.

A 2004 article in The Baltimore Sun quoted her as saying her views on abortion had become more pronounced over time. Friends said Mrs. Harris, a devout Roman Catholic, often organized banquets and fundraisers for the cause.

Mrs. Harris' Facebook page listed her as director of special events for Maryland Right to Life.

"She was vivacious, and so outgoing and giving — she would help anyone with anything," said Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a former state lawmaker and two-time Republican nominee for governor. "Being the wife of a person running for office is not easy, but Cookie was always very supportive."

State Sen. Joseph M. Getty, a Carroll County Republican, called her "a true partner of Andy in his political endeavors."

"But she was also frequently seen in Annapolis as an advocate for the issues she was passionate about."

News of her death shook state Republicans who have become friendly with the Harris family.


"She was a very fine woman," said former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley. She said she would remember Mrs. Harris on the campaign trail with kids in tow and a broad smile.

"She was extremely supportive of all of Andy's efforts to take on the responsibilities that he did in Congress. She was a great mother, and I know they were a happy couple."

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Larry Hogan, Maryland's Republican nominee in this year's gubernatorial election, said in a statement he was "heartbroken" by Mrs. Harris' death. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, the Democratic nominee, also offered his condolences.

"The thoughts and prayers of my family, and of all Marylanders, are with the Harris family at this difficult time," Mr. Brown said in a statement.

Mr. Harris, Maryland's sole Republican in Congress, represents the state's 1st Congressional District, which includes portions of Baltimore's northern suburbs and the Eastern Shore.

"The family is thankful for the thoughts and prayers that so many have offered already and appreciates privacy during this time," a spokeswoman for the congressman said in a statement.


Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.