Ralph R. Harris
Ralph R. Harris Sr. left a profound mark on animal nutrition and health in Alabama. As a member of the faculty in Auburn’s Department of Animal Sciences for 35 years, Harris could boast that most of the state’s veterinarians had studied in his classroom. An expert in ruminant nutrition, he did not boast, often joking that he “taught how to feed cows hay.”
Raised on a small family farm near Winfield in northwest Alabama, Harris was encouraged by his mother to attend the University of Alabama and become a medical doctor. He loved animals, however, and it was his desire to work with them that brought him to Alabama Polytechnic Institute to study agriculture after finishing at the top of his high school class.
He completed his bachelor’s degree in animal science in 1951 and his master’s in animal nutrition the following year, then served three and a half years on active duty in the Air Force before pursuing his doctorate at Texas A&M. After teaching for a year there, he returned to Auburn and joined the agriculture faculty.
Harris was a favorite among students and was selected to receive numerous awards as a result. Among them were the College of Agriculture Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence, Mortar Board honorary’s Favorite Teacher Award, College of Agriculture Teacher of the Year and a special commendation from the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. He would go on to be inducted into that organization’s Alabama Livestock Hall of Fame. Harris was also a member and served as president of Auburn’s chapter of Gamma Sigma Delta, the honor society of agriculture.
Among his favorite activities while on faculty at Auburn were his many years as advisor to Block and Bridle and the Ag Ambassadors.
Harris became head of the Department of Animal Sciences in 1993 and led the department until his retirement from the university in 1995. He also served 37 years in the Air Force Reserve, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Harris and his wife, Eleanor, were married for 61 years and had three children and four grandchildren. He passed away in April 2015.