Percy G. Harris, the first African-American Iowa regent and an eminent Cedar Rapids family physician, has been a doctor to thousands of patients, as well as a healer to a much broader community.
On the occasion of his retirement from private practice in 1999, many noted that Harris would be missed because of his seemingly boundless empathy, not only for his patients, but also for every human being he meets. Former patients describe a doctor in step with the latest in diagnosis and treatment, but old-fashioned in the way he cared—a physician who could always spend time seeing to their emotional, as well as physical, health.
The first black person ever to intern at St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids in 1957, Harris served for more than 40 years with distinction on the staffs of both St. Luke's and Mercy Hospitals in Cedar Rapids. In 1976, he became chief of staff at St Luke's Hospital, where he led the initiative to offer open heart surgery services there. In his job as Linn County's first-ever medical examiner, Harris says he learned a lot about handling death with delicacy and concern for victims and their families and he learned about compassion, witnessing humanitarian outpouring of help and goodwill to people who suffered tragic losses.
Friends say Harris, now retired, used to worry excessively about his patients, that he would get by on only five hours of sleep, and that his idea of relaxation would be sitting up late at night poring over patient insurance forms.
Such devotion spilled over into his two terms of service on the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, and, in fact, Harris confesses he used to wind down at the end of a hard day by reading his regents meeting material. His attention paid off, with initiatives that ensured the best doctors were running UI Hospitals and Clinics and that the UI remained an institution that gives all Iowans a fair opportunity for a college education.
Since completing his service as regent, Harris has continued to be a faithful supporter of the UI's educational departments, medical programs, arts, and athletics. An unwavering advocate of the UI's medical center through membership in the Friends of the UIHC, Harris is also an active supporter of Hancher Auditorium and the athletic department's Golden Hawk Club.
Beloved because of his uncommon care and compassion, Harris was honored in 1996 as the NAACP's Outstanding Citizen, and in 1997, inducted into the Iowa African American Hall of Fame. In 1998, Mercy Medical Center awarded Harris its prestigious Gold-Headed Cane and title Medical Laureate for his medical leadership and eminence. In 2000, the Rotary Club of Cedar Rapids recognized Harris with its eighth annual award for community service.
Harris is a member of the UI Alumni Association's Old Capitol Club and a member of the UI Foundation's Presidents Club.