Harris’ local roots run deep

Published 3:53 pm Monday, July 19, 2010

Mary Harris, Shelby County’s circuit clerk, is Alabaster through and through.

She started life by being born in the car near Red Lobster on the way to the hospital.

In 1954, there were no “preemie” clothes. Upon her release from the hospital six weeks later, she had clothes made from doll patterns.

When she was 6 years old, her father built the family a home on Eighth Street S.W. in Alabaster. Harris lived there until she married. She attended Thompson and won the “business award” her senior year in school.

Harris fondly recalls her first job, which began at age 15, at the locally-owned and operated Gillis Pharmacy. Her pay was $1.10 per hour, and on payday she zipped up to L.G. Farris department store to the junior department for the latest in fashions. The Gillises are responsible for Harris becoming an Auburn fan. Her husband, Phil, is an Alabaster fire inspector and an Alabama fan.

Although they are empty nesters now, Phil and Mary are avid campers and raised their children, Cindy and Tommy, with a love of nature.

Mini-vacations, discount coupons, a pop-up camper and a love of family and historical sites have resulted in many great family memories.

Now in her 38th year at the Circuit Clerk’s office, Mary Harris has the reputation for getting the job done. She began working for the late Kyle Lansford, who was like a father to her. He often told folks that Harris’s hair was longer than her skirt when she came to work. That was in the ’70s when short skirts, long straight hair and boots were in fashion. Her first paycheck was $360 and Harris thought she was rich.

Slowly but surely, Harris has advanced through titles and jobs. For 16 years, she issued warrants and served as absentee election manager. She also serves as secretary-treasurer of the court system and custodian of court records, as well as serving with Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry and Probate Judge Jim Fuhrmeister on the Election Canvassing Board.

Usually the people Harris deals with have a problem — divorce, child custody, traffic citation, victim of a crime or have been arrested. Needless to say, they are stressed out and often come in upset.

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of public service. I don’t have plans to retire — just taking it six years at a time,” Harris said, who was elected by the voters of Shelby County to serve in her position as circuit clerk.

Life has not been a bed of roses for Harris. She has experienced two miscarriages, as well as the death of her mother and, on the same day, her dear friend, Kyle Lansford. Her brother had passed away six months earlier.

“My parents were wonderful examples. They worked long and hard but loved what they did,” Harris said.

“Adversity and the way you handle it gives you a better insight into helping others who are facing adversity. I have learned that material things do not generate happiness,” she said.