It is with a heavy heart that I mourn my wonderful, beautiful and talented wife Andrea. She passed away after waging a two year battle with ovarian cancer on April second, 2017. She was a warrior and an angel.
Our sons Aaron and Joel, our grandson Dylan, our daughter in law Amy, my sisters and brother, as well as many nephews and nieces and countless friends and fellow artists love and miss her. I will announce the formation of a charity named in Andrea’s honor. “Andrea’s Hope Foundation” in the coming month(s) when it becomes a legal entity.
Andrea’s Hope Foundation will benefit ovarian cancer research, Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Ovarian Cancer Department and most of all, women who are battling the final stages of ovarian cancer who do not have adequate insurance or resources to help them and their families cope with the last weeks of oc due to inadequate financial resources.
The doctors and nurses in the Gynecologic Cancer Department at the Anne and Robert Lurie Cancer Department of Prentice Women’s Hospital were wonderful as was Palliative Care at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and all those loving caregivers at JourneyCare Hospice.
Those of you who both knew and loved Andrea (to know her was to love her) are encouraged to attend the Celebration Of A Life Well Lived in Andrea’s honor on June 11, 2017 in Lincoln Park. Details will follow.
The following appeared in the Chicago Tribune on April 13, 2017 in the business section:
Andrea Harris, artist with a late-blooming career, Passed Away at 69
Andrea Harris was in her early 50s when she acted on a casual suggestion to take a drawing class at the Art Institute of Chicago. She went on to take a class in oil painting, a path that launched her on a late-blooming career as a fine artist.
Harris, who had been a model and a clothing designer, was also an accomplished marathon runner who moved from that to bicycle racing. But her talent and imagination really came out in her art.
“Those paintings just blew me away,” said her husband, photographer Bart Harris, of the first paintings she brought home from class. “That became the passion of her life.”
Harris went on to produce hundreds of paintings, many large-format, in styles that ranged from impressionist scenes from nature to realistic renderings of places and people, including a notable series of 50 paintings she titled “Women of Courage.” Her paintings have been shown in galleries across the U.S. as well as in Europe.
Harris, 69, died of complications from ovarian cancer April 2 in her home in the Roscoe Village neighborhood of Chicago, according to her husband.
She was born Andrea Sommers in Coraopolis, Pa. After finishing high school there, she did some modeling in Pittsburgh and for a time in New York before moving to Chicago when she was 20. She met her future husband when she walked into Harris’ photography studio looking for modeling work. They soon began dating and were married in January 1970.
Harris became interested in running and through her husband connected with an experienced runner, Laurie Rossi, who offered some advice. Planning to be a spectator, Harris accompanied Rossi to a marathon in which Rossi and another friend, Erma Tranter, well-known for her work with Friends of the Parks, planned to participate.
“At the last minute, she decided to register and run with no real marathon training,” Tranter said. “She ran the marathon and finished it in a very respectable time. It shows you her talent and her determination.”
Harris went on to run a number of marathons, including one in Hawaii with Rossi. Through her involvement with running, she became a representative selling athletic shoes and for a time was a part owner and manager of an Evanston store selling running shoes and other athletic gear.
Her interest in sports led her to apply in 1979 to be one of the runners carrying the Olympic torch to the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. Gene Deutscher, who represented Texas in the torch relay, said Harris was one of 52 runners chosen to carry the torch from what was then Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to Lake Placid.
“Andrea was a hell of a runner and very adaptive,” said Deutscher, noting that snow and cold weather made the eight-day event more challenging than organizers planned. According to Deutscher, who remained a close friend, Harris made a strong impression on many in the group. “She was just a bright shining light in all of our lives.”
Harris later got involved in bicycle racing, where her determination led to her qualifying to participate in the 1988 U.S. Olympic trials in the sport, according to her husband. She was 40 at the time, competing in Houston against women half her age.
In addition to making art, Harris shared her knowledge of art with others. For a time, she took part in a program to take grammar school children to Lake County forest preserves and parks to learn about nature and the environment and to paint from what they saw.
That love of nature showed up in many of her paintings, according to Rossi. “She felt some kind of a bond and that it should be preserved.”
Harris was a director of the Chicago chapter of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women, working for social, political and economic equality for women and girls around the world.
Tranter said the same determination that carried Harris to success in sports and art was evident in her fight against cancer. “She was determined to live her life and to live it fully.”
In addition to her husband, Harris is survived by sons Aaron and Joel; and a grandson.
Plans are being made for a celebration of her life.
This beautiful tribute does not describe the sheer number of accomplishments my wife achieved in her all too brief life. Nor does it illustrate her compassion or her passionate pursuit of art, making people aware of our beautiful environment through her art and speaking engagements, her running accomplishments, including assembling local female distance runners for two assaults on the women’s 24 hour relay record. Her team ultimately broke an existing record to be listed for years as the world record holders in the Guinness Book of World Records. Andrea was a clothing designer with women’s dresses sold in Marshall Field and Company and Carson Pirie Scott and she was commissioned by Susan Ford to make a custom leather sport coat for her father, the President of the United States. Gerald R. Ford. She was the manager and partner of a very successful running store in the 1980s in Evanston, Il., The Complete Athlete.
Andrea was a true renaissance woman, smart, funny and in the forty seven years we were married, I do not remember her ever speaking ill of anyone. I miss her terribly.