Mary Pauline Webb Harris of Rolla, Missouri, passed from this life on Friday, November 9, 2012, in Kansas City, Missouri, at the age of 91 years, 11 months and 27 days.
She was born on November 13, 1920, in Hamburg, Iowa, to Ellis K. and Elsie Alice (Baggerly) Webb.
Mary was preceded in death by her parents; her husband, James Thomas “J.T.” Harris; infant sisters Rhoda Margaret Webb and Adaline Webb; sister Faye Ella Carruth; brother Charlie E. Webb; and daughter-in-law Marga Ann (Legsdin) Harris.
Survivors include son Daniel J. Harris of Kansas City; brother Keith B. Webb and wife Priscilla of San Diego, California; numerous nieces, nephews and extended family members, as well as her dearest girlfriend of 69 years, Ruby Anderson of Rolla.
Mary moved to Rolla from Iowa on March 1, 1933, when her father accepted the position of winter quarters & farm manager for Russell Brothers Circus, owned by Claude and Pauline (Russell) Webb, Mary’s uncle and aunt.
Soon after arriving in Rolla, the family joined First Baptist Church in March of 1933, where Mary remained a member until her passing. She shared her “sacred pew” at First Baptist with dear friends Dr. and Mrs. Alan Singer.
Mary was a 1939 graduate of Rolla High School. She married her sweetheart, J.T. Harris, on December 29, 1938, during Christmas break of her senior year of high school. She enjoyed 66 years of wedded bliss with J.T. until his passing in 2005.
Mary joined the ranks of United Telephone Company in August of 1950 as “Operator 22” and completed 35 years of dedicated service, retiring in December of 1985. She arose early every morning in order to start her shift at 5:00 a.m., never once missing work due to illness. She took particular pride in connecting military families over the phone lines during the Korean and Vietnam War eras.
Mary’s fashion chic became iconic in Rolla. In spite of changing fashion trends, Mary stayed true to her feminine styling of four-inch stiletto heels, fur-lined coats and gloves and elegant dresses. The Phelps County Historical Society now owns her antique hat collection, which Mary donated in 2009, and is on display in the historic Old Phelps County Courthouse. Mary modeled many of her favorite hats at the invitation of Former First Lady Jean Carnahan in 1998 at the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City at a high tea and hat fashion show to benefit St. Mary’s Health Center and Capital Regional Medical Center.
Another extension of Mary’s style was evident in her choice of vehicle. Her 1964 white Ford Thunderbird, “Little Girl,” traversed the streets of Rolla and beyond until her adoption into another family in 2005.
As a skilled storyteller, lover of poetry and quips, Mary charmed friends and strangers alike with stories from her life, including her experiences of riding the lead elephant in the Grand Entry Parade of the Russell Brothers Circus at Fairgrounds Park in Rolla at the age of 16 for their season opening on May 1, 1937. She loved quoting Shakespeare, as well as her favorite Persian poetry: “If thou hath two pennies, spend one for bread, and with the other, buy a hyacinth for thy soul.” Mary recognized good manners in men, referring to worthy individuals as “true Southern gentlemen” and encouraging everyone to “stay sweet.”
Mary requested to bequeath her body for medical research. Her remains will be cremated and interred at a later date in a private ceremony at Ozark Hills Memorial Gardens in Rolla, Missouri. Memorial contributions may be made to Mary’s church, First Baptist Church, 801 N. Cedar St., Rolla, Mo., 65401.
Mary was a woman on whom the joys of life were not wasted.