Updated: Red Deer mourns loss of philanthropist Gary W. Harris

Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre stands as lasting legacy to businessman’s generosity

One of Red Deer’s most generous philanthropists has died.

Gary W. Harris left a lasting legacy in Red Deer when he donated $5 million toward construction of what is now known as the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre, an $88-million sports, wellness and health centre built on Red Deer College campus.

Harris, 66, who died on Saturday, also made a large donation to help create the Gary W. Harris Celebration Plaza downtown, in front of the former Central Middle School.

2019 Canada Winter Games chair Lyn Radford has known Harris and his family for 30 years.

“He’s probably one of the kindest and gentlest souls we’ve ever known,” said Radford, who offered condolences on behalf of all involved in the Games to Harris’s wife Ruth and his two sons.

“We so appreciated how engaged Gary was when he came into the 2019 Canada Winter Games,” she said, adding the celebration plaza and the college’s facility show his commitment.

Harris believed deeply in “volunteerism and how it builds and sustains a community,” she said, adding he was a founder of the Red Deer and District Community Foundation. “Gary didn’t just speak it, he practised it.”

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer also said the city owed much to Harris.

“Gary was an individual who was respected for his long-time volunteerism, his community building and certainly his philanthropy, as well,” said Veer.

“The fingerprints of his life and legacy are evidenced throughout our community. But above all, he will be missed by family and friends.”

Red Deer College also paid tribute to Harris.

“We were sad to lose our dear friend,” says the college’s Facebook page. “Over the past five years, our college, our city and the 2019 Canada Winter Games were recipients of his generosity, his support for athletics and his belief in community.”

The college says Harris’s ties ran deep. He was a former student who threw his support behind the successful effort to become a university.

Recently, he established a scholarship for education students in memory of his mother, a former teacher. As a former college athlete, he attended games and alumni events.

“Throughout his career, Gary was a teacher, a lawyer, a businessman, and a philanthropist in the truest sense. We will continue to hold his wife Ruth, his family and his friends in our hearts as we mourn this loss and reflect on his legacy,” said the college.

“We’re proud to have called him a true friend, and we’ll miss seeing him on our campus and in the stands.”

Besides being a generous donor, Harris was an enthusiastic fan of the Kings and Queens, said RDC president Peter Nunoda.

“His contributions have helped to shape our students’ learning experiences in the classroom, in sport competition and recreational opportunities,” said Nunoda.

“Gary’s legacy will be felt by future students who receive scholarships attributed to his generous philanthropy to help them achieve their dreams.”

Harris’s $5-million donation for the Canada Winter Games Centre was the largest single donation the college had ever received.

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