Robert W. Harrison Inducted 1987 - Class of 1945
On Feb. 2, 1941, a 5-foot-9 13 year-old named Bob Harrison, playing for his Lagrange School basketball team in a game at the Boys' Club, scored 69 field goals and for good measure tossed in a free throw. He made all the points for his team, which won the game by a 139-8 score. The feat won nationwide attention, including an appearance in the widely circulated Ripley Believe It Or Not cartoon, but, more importantly, it launched the young athlete on a career of major successes as a basketball player and coach and in the world of industry.
Like Frank Duvendack before him, Bob Harrison grew up on Ontario Street and attended Lagrange School. At Woodward High School he was a member of the football team for four years and of the track team for three years, but it was for his proficiency in basketball that he is best remembered. He was a member of that great Woodward basketball team of 1943-44. The next year he and another member of that team, Paul Seymour, were together again as seniors on a team that was undefeated in regular season play. He was named All-City three years and All-State twice; he
he captained the Woodward team and was voted its most valuable player. In his senior year he was awarded the Michigan Plaque as outstanding student-athlete.
Graduating from Woodward in 1945, Bob Harrison served briefly at war's end with the U.S. Marine Corps, then enrolled at the University of Michigan, and here again honors accrued to him. He played varsity basketball at Michigan for four years, was captain and most valuable player in his junior year, was named to the All-Big Ten team his junior and senior years, received All-American mention, and was chosen to play in the East-West All-Star game. Lest it bethought that his interests at Michigan were solely on basketball, it should be noted that he was also co-chairman of the Junior Prom. And pledge class president and historian of his fraternity, Sigma Chi. And president of Sphinx, the junior honor society, and a member of Michigauma, the senior honor society. And secretary of the "M" Club, the lettermen's organization.
After his graduation from Michigan, the obvious progression for Mr. Harrison, now a 6-foot-1 190-pounder, was to professional basketball. In his nine-year professional career, he earned a reputation as a highly competitive player, a battler on the court, and one of the finest defensive guards in National Basketball Association history. He was a starter five years for the Minneapolis Lakers, and in those five years the Lakers won four world championships. He finished his rookie season by providing the winning points on a last-second shot from mid-court in the seventh game of the championship series against Syracuse. After the Lakers it was the St. Louis Hawks for two years; he was captain of the team and the player representative, and he was picked to play in the 1956 NBA All-Star game. He closed out his professional career with the Syracuse Nationals, where he rejoined his teammate from Woodward, Paul Seymour, the player-coach of Syracuse.
It was while he was still at Woodward that Mr. Harrison determined he would eventually go into coaching, and he credits the salutary influence of his Woodward coach, Homer Hanham, for the decision. "I think that's when I decided to become a coach," an article in the Boston Globe some years later quoted him as saying. "I thought a lot of my high school coach. I owe a lot to him."
Mr. Harrison began his coaching career in 1958 at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and he couldn't have picked a more challenging situation. The prevailing attitude among the team, the students and the townspeople toward basketball at Kenyon was one of apathy, and the team he inherited in his first year as coach was such that when Kenyon won a game in late January of 1959, it broke a 23-game losing streak that had extended over two seasons. By the time he left Kenyon after 10 years, he had turned the basketball program around and brought the fans back with the exciting brand of basketball he insisted on. His Kenyon teams had a winning record of 39-11 over the last two years. In addition to being head basketball coach at Kenyon, Mr. Harrison was head coach of tennis and soccer and assistant athletic director.
Mr. Harrison left Kenyon when Harvard University selected him from among some 60 applicants for the post of head basketball coach. At Harvard, Mr. Harrison served as head golf coach as well, and as president of the Ivy League Basketball Coaches Association.
Mr. Harrison spent five years at Harvard. Having earned a master of business administration degree from the University of Michigan in 1964, he decided that it was now time to test his skills in the world of business. For a man who had captained his high school, college, and professional basketball teams, his rise up the corporate ladder was swift but not surprising. He joined the Troxel Manufacturing Co., a leading producer of bicycle parts and accessories based in Moscow, Tenn., as a salesman in 1975. In 1979 he was promoted to international sales manager, in 1982 to marketing manager, in 1982 to vice president marketing, in 1983 to president, in 1984 to president/ chief executive officer, and in 1986 to the pinnacle post of chairman/ chief executive officer. He has been a member of the Troxel board of directors since 1982.
Mr. Harrison has held the office of president of a large number of sports and industry associations on state and national levels. The list of honors he received is equally long. Two achievements in particular must be mentioned. Mr. Harrison, whose father was a full-blooded American Indian of the Winnebago tribe (the father died when Bob was 2), was president in 1951-52 of the North American Indian Society. The other achievement, and the one of which Mr. Harrison may be most proud; he and his wife, Judy, have reared seven children. The family home is now in Germantown, Tenn., a suburb of Memphis.