Mary Helen (Person) Harris

Mary Helen (Person) Harris – July 28, 1941-July 16, 2019


Born in Asheville, NC, Mary Helen grew up in Springfield, MO. The summer

before 7th grade, she met Bob at church camp (her dad was the camp

director) and they became close friends. Mary Helen and Bob began dating

the summer before their senior year in high school.

Mary Helen earned an Associate of Arts degree from Cottey College before

graduating from the University of Missouri in 1963 with a Bachelor of Arts

degree in social work with a recreation emphasis.


She and Bob were married the first weekend after graduation, and moved

to St. Louis where Bob was working at the time. Later that year, the pair

relocated to Indiana so Bob could study for a Ph.D. in physics at Purdue

University, while Mary Helen worked at the local YWCA.


When Bob left Purdue to take a job with AT&T in Kansas City, Mary Helen

again found work at their local YWCA, also volunteering for a precursor to

the Head Start program at their inner-city church. It wasn’t long before Bob

felt called to become a pastor, rather than a middle manager, so off they

went to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. In Pittsburgh, Mary Helen first

worked for a children and family service, and then as an assistant dean at

Chatham College. They welcomed their first son, Doug, during Bob’s final semester.


Next they moved to Evanston, IL, where second son, Ben, joined the family.

This next chapter of their lives found Mary Helen busy as mother and wife,

and Bob occupied as a youth minister. After three years in Evanston, Bob

accepted an assistant pastor position in Peoria, IL. Bob and Mary Helen

participated in a marriage enrichment group where they learned how to

have good fights.


The family moved to Syracuse, NY in 1973. With both sons in school, Mary

Helen went back to work as a school social worker.


1979 brought the family to Arlington, VA, where Mary Helen earned a

Master’s in Social Work from Howard University and then worked for

George Washington Hospital and two hospices. As part of her work, she

discovered an adult home that was abusing seniors, and her efforts to

expose its violations led to its closing. For that work she was honored as

Metro Social Worker of the Year in 1989.


With both sons at college, Bob and Mary Helen moved to Columbus, OH in

1992. Bob was pastor of a church in the Ohio State neighborhood and Mary

Helen worked in the Ohio State University hospital system. Their family

continued to grow as Doug married Karen.


A few years later in 1999, Bob and Mary Helen were back in Northern

Virginia, where Bob did Interim Ministry. They again had cause for

celebration as Ben married Jenny. The next thing they knew, Bob and Mary

Helen had also welcomed four grandchildren into the family: Marney, Luci,

Julia, and Kevin. Over the years, Mary Helen continued to serve in churches

as both a leader and a volunteer geriatric care manager, work that meant a

lot to her, as well as to those she helped.


We, in her family, celebrate her deep love for us and others, her passion for

justice and peace, her humor, her smile, and her giving spirit.

In addition to immediate family, Mary Helen leaves:

  • her sister, Anne McCabe, Anne’s husband, Tom, and their daughter, Erin.
  • her brother, Jim Person, Jim’s wife Diane O’Brien, their daughter Katie (her husband, Dan, and their daughters Amelia and Lizzie), and their son Andrew.
  • cousins and friends, too many to name – of whom, you here today are an important part.


If you would like to make a contribution in Mary Helen’s honor, two of her

favorite causes are:

  • Cottey College, the wonderful women’s junior college Mary Helen

attended. Cottey helped Mary Helen grow from a somewhat insecure girl

into the confident young woman she became. Her class (’61) is supporting

a new student lounge, the “Chellie Club.” Send your gift to Cottey College,

1000 W. Austin, Nevada, MO 64772. To give online, go to and

follow links for giving. Select the radio button and designate: CCAA Chellie

Club, noting that your gift is in Mary Helen’s memory/honor.

  • Rock Spring Congregational Church – The Peace Fund. This fund has

helped send members to Israel/Palestine and bring Palestinian Christians

here. To donate to this fund, go to or send a

check to Rock Spring with “Peace Fund – Mary Helen Harris” in the memo


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