Harris remembered as 'institutional fixture'

by Bill O’Neill, UNMC public affairs | March 18, 2005

picture disc.
Jane Harris at the 2000 Cattlemen's Ball.
Jane Harris had two favorite sayings, Che Peak says.

One of them - "This too will pass" - seemed particularly appropriate for Peak on Thursday, as he and other members of the campus community mourned the death of Harris, UNMC's director of Employee Relations.

"She was the embodiment of doing what was right," said Peak, who was mentored by Harris and is now an employee relations specialist at UNMC. "She nurtured me, taught me, loved me, and I loved her. She was like a second mother. She taught me so much."

Harris, 53, died early Thursday morning (March 17) at The Nebraska Medical Center. Information on services and memorials will be released at a later date.

John Russell, executive director of Human Resources, said Harris was an "institutional fixture" who was an incredible resource, in terms of institutional knowledge.

"Jane was indispensable. She had an incredible breadth and depth of knowledge about the institution, and her counsel was invaluable," Russell said. "She had great personal skills. In dealing with employees who were having difficulty or in dealing with managers who were having employee problems, Jane was very perceptive; she was able to see to the issues that needed to be addressed. That's a gift we're going to find impossible to replace.

"Jane had the best sense of humor I have ever been around. She had fun with everything and made sure everyone else did too."

Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D., credits Harris with creating innovative solutions to employee relations problems. He cited her input into and implementation of UNMC's Reward and Recognition Program.

"She was a valued member of the UNMC team and family," Dr. Maurer said. "She was an outstanding employee and a warm and sincere person who always had the Med Center's best interest at heart. She will be greatly missed and difficult to replace."

Harris began at UNMC in December 1974 as the recreation coordinator in the Fitness Center, now called the Center for Healthy Living. She managed the center from 1991 to 1995, when she transferred to Human Resources to become a leader of "Valuing People." In January 2000, she was named director of Employee Relations. She also served as Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action officer for UNMC and was a member of the Chancellor's Gender Equity Commission. She also was responsible for the operations of the Child Development Center, Workers Compensation administration and Unemployment Compensation administration, and the New Employee Orientation Program.

A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Harris received her master's degree in public administration in 1995 from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She received a PHR (Professional, Human Resources) Certification from the Society of Human Resources Management.

"In all of her roles, Jane was absolutely dedicated to mentoring, training and development opportunities, advancement of diversity and fair treatment," Russell said. "She was very dedicated to diversity and having an organization that was a welcoming and worthwhile place for everybody."

Harris was a mainstay of the Cattlemen's Ball, which benefits the Eppley Cancer Center and the ball's hosting communities throughout the state. Kae Pavlik, an advisor board member for the ball, said Harris was instrumental in getting the ball off the ground and in its current success.

"She was a very dear friend to myself and to many of the key people who have organized the Cattleman's Ball over the years. She will be missed," said Pavlik, who also is a member of the organization, Friends of the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center.

Still, Harris will be remembered by most for her work on the UNMC campus. In an application for the campus' Gold 'U' Award - an application that was being readied to be mailed - Harris's colleagues described her ability to evaluate and respond to the most challenging issues, always treating those involved with dignity and respect.

Harris was an ardent supporter of people of color and their professional development. She was dedicated to mentoring and training of employees.

"She really got fired up about the development and training programs for employees at all levels," Russell said. "She wanted to help them do their jobs better."

Peak is an example of Harris's investment in UNMC employees. A graduate assistant who started in Human Resources in 1995, Peak became full time as an employee relations specialist in 2000, after he received his master's degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He credits Harris with mentoring him.

"She just extended love to someone who she didn't know anything about. She was willing to invest in me," Peak said. "She taught me so much. Just dealing with conflict management, negotiation, not just about doing things right but doing the right thing. She taught me that even though it may be emotional and hard at times, you still have to stay focused and do the work."

Peak said Harris often said, "And this too will pass" and "Everybody must remain calm." "Jane never gave up on me, even when I made mistakes," Peak said. "I'll miss her."

Harris is survived by her brother and sister-in-law, Jim and Roxie Harris of Scottsdale, Ariz; two nieces, Jennifer Harris of Springfield, Va., and Angie Harris of Scottsdale, Ariz; and aunt Mary Ellen Clarkson of Portland, Ore. She was preceded in death by her parents, Gene and Laurel Harris, and an uncle, George Fuller.

Memorials may be given to the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center or the local Alzheimer's Association.


Tributes to Harris

Jim Harris, brother - "Jane loved her work and the people she worked with. She received tremendous satisfaction from both, and loved to talk about her work and her colleagues every chance she got."

Sandy Goetzinger-Comer, director, UNMC Public Affairs - "Jane was a special friend and colleague. She was a very caring person and had a love of people. That was evident in how she approached her job and life in general. She was a great mentor and always had time to listen and offer advice. Jane had a wonderful knack for getting to the crux of an issue and very logically, skillfully, and sensitively tackling it. She was so talented that she was able to contribute to UNMC in many areas during her career here. We will miss her."

Joyce Cooper, managing director, IN-ROADS/Nebraska-Western Iowa, Inc. - Many people knew Jane Harris as the director of Employee Relations at UNMC, I knew Jane as the Master Bridge Builder. When Jane believed in something, she invested in it, personally, and garnered support from others. Jane was a champion supporter of INROADS.

Jane built bridges for several talented, high potential, African-American, female college students. The bridges enabled the young women to cross over from the college classroom to UNMC, to learn, to grow and to give. Jane did this by supporting the young women's career development through internships and full-time employment at UNMC. Year after year, Jane built bridges to the areas at the medical center in which the young women were interested. One worked with the children in the daycare; another worked in the intellectual property department until she entered law school at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln; another shadowed several areas, including anesthesiology and pediatrics as an intern and now works at UNMC fulltime, another worked in the continuing education area, another worked in the neighborhood clinics until she was admitted to the University of Nebraska Medical School. Jane's impact on these young women is immeasurable!