Voted in high school most likely to inspire

Baltimore ... or Less

July 14, 2002|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

Our happy days at Eastern are quickly passing by

We found success and happiness and they will never die

We had time for play and friendship and for all our studies, too.

You'll always be remembered by the Class of '52.

- song from the 1952 yearbook of Eastern High School

Sometimes gratitude builds slowly over the years.

Half a century has passed since Eastern High School's Class of 1952 graduated into the dawning of Eisenhower's America. The students were all female - so were the teachers they left behind. One of the best was Margery Harriss, English teacher and a major force behind the class yearbook.

Over the years, The Echo has become increasingly significant to its subjects, preserving images of the former all-girls high school on 33rd Street in photographs of tea dances and other lost ways of life. Most important, it reminds the Class of '52, women now on the outer limits of middle age, what it felt like to be 17.

Recently, in conjunction with their 50th reunion, two of Margery Harriss' students organized a small dinner to let her know how much their appreciation has grown.

The 93-year-old teacher greeted her well-wishers wearing a glittering cardboard tiara. A wisp of a woman steeped in artful elegance - she and her late husband, Baltimore newsman R.P. Harriss, have been called "literary bon vivants" - she reminsced fondly.

"Teaching at Eastern High School was a wonderful experience," she said. "It was a wonderful building, kept so spic and span. There was a very congenial group of faculty and students, many of whom I still hear from."

Several of the guests at the Cross Keys Inn brought along their personal copies of The Echo. Earlier that day, Margery Harriss had signed a number at another reunion event.

"It's such a wonderful yearbook. Ann Miser did such lovely illustrations for it," Harriss remarked. "And I remember that cover! We got one of the boys from City College to hold up that branch just for the cover."

The fading blue-toned photograph shows the school's austere facade softened by a very leafy branch that one assumes - falsely, as it turns out - is attached to a tree.

"I thought the school looked so barren," Harriss explained. "I think the tree limb made it look so much more attractive."

"You gave that picture a little extra life - that was typical," observed former student Betty Breuning.

A teacher and school administrator for 44 years - the last 16 as assistant principal at Edmondson High School - Margery Harriss has been recognized often for her career achievements. After retiring from the school system, she directed the office of special events at Loyola College, where she received the President's Medal.

Yet this was the first party ever held exclusively for her by her students. Dinners of crab cakes and chicken were being prepared. A vanilla sheet cake bearing her name was waiting in the wings.

It had been an exciting, but long, day.

"Are you holding up OK, mother?" asked her daughter, English teacher Clarinda Harriss.

"Yes," Harriss nodded, patting her napkin.

The guest of honor sat next to 66-year-old Sarah Bulin Hanson, one of her favorite Eastern students, and Dick Reid, the handsome gentleman who came to the party with her daughter. The reedy voices of the 1957 Eastern High School Chorus singing "Halls of Ivy" floated across the room from an ancient record player.

"Isn't this exciting?" said co-host Ann Miser, art editor of the yearbook."I thought we'd go around and say something we remember about Mrs. Harriss."

The gratitude took many forms.

Abby Fowler: "I started my senior year two weeks after my dad dropped dead of a heart attack. Mrs. Harriss went out of her way for me. She made me feel like a grown-up and very special."

Ann Miser: "Way back then, Mrs. Harriss knew about positive reinforcement. In fact I think she invented positive reinforcement."

Co-host Joan McGrath: "You were very pretty, very well-groomed, pleasant, elegant. You carried yourself well and had a lot of class."

Sarah Bulin Hanson: "What I remember about Mrs. Harriss is how she managed to make everything we did special. She made things into occasions."

It became clear Hanson had learned from her teacher's example. The room fell silent as she adjusted her glasses to read a poem she had written, titled "For Margery Harriss."

Shall we fly to Paris and stroll on the Champs Elysees?

Or shall we seek pleasure in far greater measure as we drive the Appian Way?

But wherever we happen to land, in distant and exotic places,

Or exquisite secret gardens more close at hand,

It's the power of our dreams that has given us flight

And for inspiring us, we honor you this night.

"Thank you," Harriss murmured as Hanson presented her with a copy of the poem and the girls from the yearbook gave her a timeless ovation.

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