ROBERT “BOB” L. HARRIS
October 3, 1934 ˜ March 6, 2020
Robert “Bob” Lee Harris was best known in Clark County for his 30 years as a Superior Court judge. He was appointed to the bench in 1979, ran successfully in 1980 and retired in December 2009. He left his mark on the justice system, presiding over one of the state’s most horrific death penalty cases, pursuing alternatives to traditional approaches to juvenile justice, and leading the state’s superior court judges’ association. Two of his favorite things to do as a judge were naturalization proceedings and weddings.
Bob Harris came from humble beginnings. He was born in Spokane, WA to Celia and Roy Harris. In his early years he lived in Spokane, St. Mary’s, ID, and Dayville, OR, where his mother managed and owned different cafes and diners. He moved to Spray, OR when his mother married Robert Reed, a rancher in the area. Bob attended six years of school in Spray, playing football, basketball and baseball; his graduating class of 1952 had five boys and two girls.
Working his way through college and law school, Bob was a proud graduate of Washington State College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 1955. An active Cougar, Bob was a member of the Theta Chi fraternity; played college baseball one year; and was sports editor of The Daily Evergreen. He was a member of the Student Council and worked on the Alki. He attended University of Washington law school, earning his law degree in 1958.
It was during his time clerking for Chief Justice Frank Weaver that Bob met the glamorous Mary Jo Bourke of Seattle. Mary Jo had recently returned to Washington after studying for her master’s degree in France on a Fulbright Scholarship. Friends introduced them at a party. Bob moved to Vancouver as a part-time deputy district attorney and part-time attorney and continued to court Jo until she acquiesced and married him April 22, 1961.
Bob started private practice in 1970, working on such significant legal projects as the Vancouver Mall and St. Joseph Community Hospital.
In addition to being known about town for his legal work, Bob coached hundreds of kids in football, basketball, baseball and softball.
Bob and Jo enjoyed travel. They joined friends to attend WSU football games in famous stadiums and cheered for the Cougars at the 1998 and 2003 Rose Bowl games. They were avid water and snow sports fans, spending winter vacations skiing and summer vacations on Hood Canal, and playing tennis year-round. Bob loved watching professional and college sports, playing cards, reading, and collecting coins. He and Jo were fans of the musical arts. Bob and Jo hosted many parties and fundraisers over the years and were blessed with a solid core of friends, colleagues and family.
In December 2019, Bob was diagnosed with cancer. He started treatment in January, and kept the news private, hoping that he would beat the disease and no one would be the wiser. He spent three weeks at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital before dying due to complications.
Bob was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Mary Jo; and his brother, James Gregg.
He is survived by his daughter, Marie and her husband Terry Sullivan (Olympia); son, Rob and his wife Eileen Harris (North Bend); daughter, Joanna and husband Mark Butcher (San Jose, CA); grandchildren, Samantha Sullivan, Joseph Harris, Nathan Harris and Addison Butcher; and nephew, Andy Gregg.
A Celebration of Life will be held later this year when groups are once again allowed to gather. If you would like to be notified about the event, please email Cougarjudge@gmail.com with your contact information or to share your favorite story.
Instead of flowers, please consider a donation to WSU Student Affairs Development Fund or Clark County Juvenile Court/Families in Need Fund, attn: Michelle Karnath (PO Box 5000, Vancouver, WA 98666-5000).
Please sign his guest book @ www.columbian.com/obits