By Jacqui Ainlay-Conley, Small Museum’s Affinity Group Committee Chairperson
The AASLH Small Museum’s Affinity Group Committee was deeply saddened to learn that our friend, colleague, and fellow committee member Jeff Harris passed away on December 7. Jeff was the Site Manager of the Magoffin Home State Historic Site (El Paso, Texas), a member of the AASLH Council, and an advocate and supporter of small history organizations at the local, state, and national level.
Jeff worked in museums for forty-seven years. He started when he was a teen as a volunteer. He joked that later, after law school and while working as an attorney, he realized he preferred being a volunteer museum director over his paying job as a lawyer. Organizations across the country benefited from Jeff’s passion. In addition to Council and the Small Museum’s Affinity Group Committee, over the years he served as Chair of the AASLH Field Services Alliance, President of the Association of Indiana Museums, and as a Texas Associations of Museums Council Member.
Committee member Laura Casey, a friend and colleague at the Texas Historical Commission, interviewed Jeff before he spoke at the 2020 Small Museum Brown Bag lunch. The title of his talk was “Making Friends with Belly Dancers.” In the blog Laura wrote, “Jeff Harris knows one thing; small museums are resilient and adaptable. . . they make meaningful connections with their communities.” The title of his talk, the subject, and the words in her blog all seem apropos. Jeff had a great sense of humor and made powerful and meaningful connections, whether they be emerging museum professionals, colleagues, or his adopted community of El Paso grieving after a mass shooting.
As Stacy Klinger, fellow council member shared, “You didn’t have to know Jeff for a long time for him to make an impact on you. If you knew him for decades, it just meant you had more stories.”
Our committee sends our condolences to Jeff’s wife Nadine, his colleagues, and friends.
If you were touched by Jeff and his passion for small history organizations, you can make a gift to the AASLH Small Museums Scholarship Fund in his honor. Contributions may also be sent by mail to AASLH, 2021 21st Avenue S., Suite 320, Nashville, TN, 37212. The Small Museums Affinity Group Committee will steward the donations with the goal of supporting professional development for primarily volunteer-run organizations.