Irving Brooks Harris was a visionary philanthropist who set a high standard for the power of philanthropy when practiced with humility, patience and relentless curiosity. He inspired everyone around him to think big and act decisively when opportunities arose. Irving’s approach was distinctive. He stepped up with early stage funding, and then demonstrated his conviction through long-term commitments. He reinforced his philanthropic goals through far-sighted and strategic support of policy and advocacy. He collaborated with public partners, which was unusual early on. His legacy includes lead investments in ground-breaking research and training, innovative programs, trailblazing institutions, and pioneering entirely new fields.
Irving was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1910, and later graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University in 1931. His success in business with companies including the Toni Home Permanent Co., Pittway Corp., and many others, allowed him to give generously of his time, business expertise and financial support to worthy organizations and causes. He was most passionate about the needs of vulnerable infants, young children and their families, and he became a tireless advocate for investing early in children’s development. He immersed himself in the latest research and understood that investing early in human capital development would result in the greatest benefit to our society. Irving also recognized the need to support public policy and systems change in order to sustain innovative programs and create lasting change in the lives of children and families.
Irving was married to Joan W. Harris for more than 30 years. He had three children, three step-children, ten grandchildren, six step-grandchildren, and 29 great-grandchildren. He passed away September 25, 2004.