Marcia S. Harris

[ Age 67 ] The Tennessee native had been chief executive officer of the Restaurant Association of Maryland since 1986.

"She was the most powerful and interesting woman that I ever met. She was ... a woman who made a difference."

October 02, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Marcia S. Harris, president and chief executive officer of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, died Friday at Johns Hopkins Hospital of complications related to pneumonia. The Columbia resident was 67.

Marcia Silk was born and raised in Memphis, Tenn., where she graduated from St. Agnes Academy for Girls in 1958. She married Edward A. Harris, her high school sweetheart, that year.

While her husband attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, she worked as administrative assistant of the psycho-biology laboratories at George Peabody College, also in Nashville.

After moving to Elyria, Ohio, Mrs. Harris worked for five years as consumer affairs director for the Tappan Corp., until 1977, when she moved with her family to Columbia.

Mrs. Harris was village manager of the Long Reach Village Association in Columbia until learning in 1986 that there was an opening for president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

"She came in at absolutely the last minute and left with the job," said Frances Haussner George, who with her husband, Steve, owned and operated Haussner's, the legendary Highlandtown restaurant that closed in 1999. "She quickly became the driving force behind the association and really made it the powerhouse that it has become.

"She was a people magnet and had an infectious Southern accent that drew people to her," Mrs. George added. "She also had a marvelous sharp wit and was a dynamic personality. She always led by example and didn't expect anyone to do anything she wouldn't be willing to do."

During her tenure, Mrs. Harris transformed the organization, whose members include restaurateurs, hospital food providers, caterers and food suppliers, into the largest trade association in the state and increased its membership from 198 to more than 3,000 members.

Other accomplishments included the establishment of the Maryland Restaurant and Hospitality Self-Insurance Fund, a workers' compensation insurance company, and the Maryland Hospitality Education Foundation.

"Marcia promoted, protected and improved the food service industry in Maryland and worked hard at getting representatives involved from across the state," said Paula Kreuzburg, who is the association's senior vice president of operations. "She had a knack with people and an ability to utilize their talents, and her greatest thrill was watching them succeed."

Ms. Kreuzburg recalled several expressions that Mrs. Harris liked to use in explaining her love of her work and encouraging others.

"She'd say, `Anything worth doing is worth overdoing'; `I like trying to do new things and blaze new trails'; or `I love living on the edge, it's not crowded out there,'" Ms. Kreuzburg said.

Mrs. Harris was also a longtime industry representative from Maryland to the board of the National Restaurant Association.

In a statement, Peter Kilgore, the national association president, CEO and general counsel, described Mrs. Harris' contributions to the industry as "immeasurable," and said her board membership "brought her leadership to the restaurant community nationwide."

"Her zeal for the restaurant and hospitality industry has made her well-known and much-respected throughout the state of Maryland among restaurateurs, lawmakers and opinion leaders," Mr. Kilgore said.

"Marcia wanted to considerably strengthen both the state and national associations for the benefit of the restaurant industry and was committed to that," said LaVerne Warlick, vice president of policies and activities of the National Restaurant Association.

"She was the most powerful and interesting woman that I ever met," said Mary Ann Cricchio, owner of Da Mimmo restaurant in Little Italy. "She was truly a woman who made a difference. I was on many boards with her, and she just didn't talk. When she spoke, she had something to say, and people listened."

She was named one of "Maryland's Top 100 Women" by The Daily Record and this year was honored with the first Foodservice Monthly Professional of the Year award.

Mrs. Harris, who enjoyed cooking and entertaining, told The Sun in July that that only thing she didn't like was boiled okra.

In praising Food Network chef Paula Deen's Southern cooking, the cooking of her youth, Mrs. Harris said in the interview, "There's nothing that butter hasn't made better."

"She also loved decorating and redecorated her home for every season," said a daughter, M. Heather Tepe of Columbia.

Mrs. Harris also was a world traveler.

A celebration of her life will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at Martin's Valley Mansion, 594 Cranbrook Road in Hunt Valley.

In addition to her husband, a retired University of Maryland, College Park professor, and daughter, Mrs. Harris is survived by a son, Lawrence A. Harris of Darnestown; two other daughters, Suzanne G. Harris and Lisa W. Dean, both of Columbia; two brothers, John D. Silk of Atlanta and Paul Silk of Memphis; a sister, Jeanine S. Blackwell of Memphis; and seven grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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