Helen Harrison of Sanford had a feisty streak that emerged at a young age.

It was apparent when she joined the Navy during World War II, when she serenaded her future husband outside a hospital and when she unexpectedly broke into joyful dance.

”Everybody loved her,” said her daughter, Anne Harrison of Sanford. ”I think because she was outgoing and she cared about people. She was never negative. She was always up.”

Mrs. Harrison’s life was filled with laughter, her daughter said, but also with much wisdom. She died Sunday at age 85.

Born in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Harrison was the youngest of the seven children of William and Helen Brooks, immigrants from Scotland.

The family moved to Aliquippa, Pa., where she was raised largely by her sister while their parents worked as servants.

Mrs. Harrison joined the Navy after graduating from high school. She was sent to Hunter College in New York to learn secretarial skills, then assigned as a secretary to an officer in Norfolk, Va.

Friends there arranged for her to meet her future husband, Ralph Harrison. The two were mutually smitten, and married three weeks later.

Ralph Harrison spent one of those weeks in the hospital having his tonsils removed. The experience was made more memorable by Mrs. Harrison, who stood outside his window singing ”I’m Just Wild About Harry” — a reference to his last name.

The couple settled in Springvale after Mrs. Harrison experienced a warm fall evening at Wells Beach, complete with a big harvest moon over the water.

They raised their family in a home on the Mousam River, with a dock and boats out back.

Mrs. Harrison worked as an executive secretary to the president of Hussey Manufacturing and at Nasson College, as a receptionist and in the alumni office.

Mrs. Harrison was the one her daughter turned to when she had problems, such as needing advice on how to raise her two young children as a divorced mother trying to finish college.

Her mother also counseled her on how there was more room in a broken heart, Anne Harrison said.

Ralph Harrison was a Shriner, and Mrs. Harrison was active in their activities and enjoyed summers filled with parades.

In the 1980s, she helped found the York County Shrine Club Ladies’ Helping Hands, which provided financial assistance to families whose children were Shrine hospital patients.

The couple’s enthusiasm for the fraternity’s activities could sum up their overall outlook as well.

”The whole purpose of a Shriner is to support these hospitals,” their daughter said, ”but they have an awful good time along the way.”


Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]


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