Around 100 friends, family and bird-lovers will come together Sunday to celebrate the life of one of their own.
Jim Harris dedicated more than three decades to the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo before he died from pancreatic cancer Sept. 19 at 68 years old.
“We worked hand in glove for 34 years, and I miss him terribly,” ICF co-founder George Archibald said.
Archibald said he’ll remember Harris as a close friend and a “wonderful co-worker.” The Massachusetts native was quiet, intelligent, insightful, a skilled writer, warm and caring, Archibald said.
“He knew a lot of stuff, and he was also very, very wise,” he said.
According to Archibald, Harris wrote about Siberian cranes as a freelance journalist in 1977 after an invitation by ICF co-founder Ron Sauey.
“Little did we know at the time that Jim would be inextricably involved in the welfare of these magnificent birds in the ensuing decades,” Archibald wrote in the organization’s newsletter “The Bugle” last year.
The crane foundation scooped Harris up in 1984, making him its education director. He was promoted to deputy director under Archibald in 1988 after helping to expand the organization’s activities in Asia — meeting his wife, ornithologist Su Liying, in the process — and then took over as director and CEO when Archibald stepped down in 2000.
Liying currently leads ICF’s East Asia flyways program, according to its website.
Archibald credits Harris’ “clear thinking and excellent writing skills” for getting grants for crane conservation totaling $15 million over the decades.
After five years as director, Harris opted to head the program in China until his retirement in early 2018, when he returned to Baraboo. His wife and one son still live in Baraboo, Archibald said.
Harris started birdwatching at a young age, according to Sumner Matteson, an avian ecologist with the state Department of Natural Resources and a birding companion to Harris.
“He was an outstanding birder,” Archibald said. “He could identify birds by their voice, and he could often hear them long before we could see them. Everyone was amazed who watched him because he could just call birds.”
Matteson interviewed Harris several times across decades — first in 1980 and finally in 2018. Matteson wrote a tribute for him, including Harris’ own thoughts and reflections, which Archibald shared with the News Republic.
When Matteson asked Harris what he would like his legacy to be after his diagnosis last year, Harris replied, “I think many of the things I did in China are significant though as a foreigner, you can’t pat yourself on the back and take credit, but the Cao Hai project, Poyang Lake, and water projects in the Northeast were pretty important.
“As far as Wisconsin is concerned, I’ve brought a lot back from China and integrated that or shared that to influence how ICF operates here with local farmers, who are important to the future of crane conservation.”
Harris saw passing along his knowledge to students just gaining an interest in conservation as part of his legacy, as well as his son, Steve.
Donations to the Jim Harris Legacy Fund will support the International Crane Foundation’s work in China and the East Asia flyway, according to the organization.