The VCU Board of Visitors established the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute in May 1999 to honor Dr. Harris’ exemplary service to the university and her retirement as provost and vice president of academic affairs. The Institute continues Dr. Harris’ legacy and spirit of collaboration, equity and partnership modeled throughout her service to the university.
Prior to becoming provost in January 1993, Harris held the position of vice provost for continuing studies and public service. On two occasions — in 1995 and 1998 — she served as acting president of VCU. Harris joined the university in 1967 and held a variety of faculty and administrative posts, including dean of the School of Social Work from 1982 to 1990. She had formerly been employed as a social worker, supervisor and executive director in public and nonprofit social service agencies in Hampton and Richmond, Va.
Harris received her Bachelor of Science degree in sociology from Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, graduating with highest honors. Originally denied admission to Richmond Professional Institute (RPI) of the College of William and Mary (now VCU) in 1954 during the Virginia’s massive resistance, Harris attended Boston University in 1954‐55. She would later return and receive her Master of Social Work from RPI in 1960. She received Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in sociology from the University of Virginia in 1974 and 1975, respectively.
Active in community organizations in the Richmond area, Harris served on numerous boards, task forces and commissions. She was a founding board member of the Richmond Women’s Bank and served on the advisory board of the Virginia Health Care Foundation and the Virginia Commission on Higher Education Appointments, of which she has been a member since its establishment by former Gov. Mark Warner in 2002. Harris also was vice chair of Warner’s transition team — Put Virginia First. She was also involved with the establishment of John B. Cary Elementary School.
Harris has received many awards and honors for her professional and community contributions, including VCU’s Presidential Medallion Award. She was cited for her leadership in establishing the first‐ ever, long‐range strategic plan for VCU. The university also awarded her with the Presidential Award for Community Multicultural Enrichment and the Riese‐Mellon Award. Harris has received honorary degrees from The College of William and Mary, the University of Richmond, and Virginia Union University and was recognized as Educator of the Year by the Richmond Chapter of the National Coalition of Black Women. In honor of Dr. Harris’ longstanding leadership, service, and contributions to Virginia Commonwealth University, a campus building, Grace E. Harris Hall, was dedicated in her honor in 2007. The Virginia General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution No. 513 in 2012, Commending Grace Edmondson Harris. She received the John Jasper Trail Blazer Award in 2014. Harris was also inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa, a National Leadership Honor Society in 2014, joining other leadership luminaries including Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Shirley Chisholm, George H.W. Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Tim Kaine. In 2015, Dr. Harris received an honorary doctorate from the College of William and Mary. Most recently, Harris was inducted into Richmond Times Dispatch Person of the Year Hall of Fame for lifetime achievements in the region.
Dr. Harris stepped down from her post as distinguished professor at the Institute on December 2015. Dr. Harris currently resides in Richmond with her husband James Harris. They have two children who continue her Harris’ legacy one as a social worker the other through employment at VCU. Harris has one grandson, of whom she is most proud. He is an alum of William and Mary and is currently attending graduate school at VCU.