February 28, 2013

Feature obituary: Martha T. Harris, 68, beloved leader in Gorham

By Melanie Creamer mcreamer@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

GORHAM – Martha T. Harris was an accomplished photographer and beloved community leader, who served on numerous town committees and was a fixture at many local events and athletic games – always with a camera in her hand.

click image to enlarge

Martha Harris

Family photo

PASSAGES

Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways.

Mrs. Harris died unexpectedly Tuesday of complications from a chemotherapy treatment she received to fight breast cancer. She was 68.

Many in the community have expressed shock and deep sadness after learning of her death.

Mrs. Harris was a well-known photographer and a founding member of the Gorham Times, a nonprofit, volunteer-run biweekly newspaper. She took pictures at most town events, athletic games, accidents, fires and Town Council meetings.

Maynard Charron, founder of the Gorham Times, said Mrs. Harris took a special interest in the things she knew meant the most to Gorham residents.

"She was just a dynamic, wonderful lady that did this stuff because she loved the community," Charron said. "She had a great intuition of what is important and how to be a part of that."

Mrs. Harris captured smiling faces in Gorham for nearly 30 years. She was a freelance photographer for the American Journal and took tens of thousands of high school senior pictures.

Her daughter, Jennifer Banks of Gorham, said her mother had a passion for photography. She often shared her photos on her Facebook page. She had 819 Facebook friends.

"Instead of sitting and watching a parade, she would walk a parade route and take pictures of people," her daughter said. "She would find out who they were and made sure the parents got the beautiful images of their kids."

Mrs. Harris was involved in local groups such as the Gorham Historical Society and the Baxter Memorial Library, where she volunteered. She was also a dedicated board member of the Gorham High School Sports Hall of Fame and the Gorham High School Alumni Association.

"She was very committed to keeping Gorham High School's history alive and recognizing Gorham athletes," her daughter said.

Mrs. Harris was a lifelong resident of Gorham. She graduated from Gorham High School in 1962.

She was remembered by her two children Thursday as a typical "tomboy" in her early years, who refused to wear skirts and could throw a baseball harder than any boy in the neighborhood.

"She was physically capable and confident and that's what she wanted to do ... be outside throwing a baseball," Banks said. "She played baseball in her 50s and 60s in the backyard with her grandchildren. She wanted to pitch so she could strike them out."

Mrs. Harris had a lifelong passion for sports. She was fortunate in her career to photograph Boston sports icons such as Jim Rice, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. A highlight of her life was meeting Red Sox legend Ted Williams. "It was one of the shining moments of her life," her daughter said.

For Mrs. Harris, family was most important. Her daughter described her mother's closeness with her four grandchildren. Banks said she was the type of grandmother who body-surfed on the Saco River and climbed on top of rock walls.

"She was an extraordinary grandmother ... always open to adventures," her daughter said, noting that her kids are struggling to accept her loss. "My (almost) 14-year-old son ... she was his best friend in the whole world. I was up till 2 a.m. with him looking at me saying, 'Why mom? Why?' It kills me. That's the hardest part there. It was her absolute most favorite role being a grandmother to those kids."

Mrs. Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer five weeks ago. She suffered complications after receiving chemotherapy on Feb. 14. She wrote about her experience with cancer on Caring Bridge. As of 6 p.m. Thursday, 12,230 people had visited Mrs. Harris' page. Another several hundred people posted messages and memories of Mrs. Harris on her Facebook page.

As of 6:30 p.m., 256 people "liked" a comment posted about her passing on Gorham House of Pizza's Facebook page. A local business, Dodge Oil Co. Inc. on New Portland Road, changed its sign to say: "Martha, thank you. We love you."

"I'm truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, compassion and support that is pouring through our town right now in honor of my mother," Banks said. "She touched this community so widely. The magnitude of people she affected is really hitting home to me."

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

mcreamer@pressherald.com

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