Brownwood High Class of ’65 ring discovered in school desk, returned to owner’s family

CHARLES MUSGROVE Brownwood ISD
The class ring of the late James Harris, a 2002 inductee into the Gordon Wood Hall of Champions who is pictured in a Brownwood High yearbook, was recently discovered in a school desk and returned to his family.

While cleaning out an office desk at Brownwood High School this summer, campus administrators came across what looked like an old dusty class ring.

BHS Assistant Principal, Andy Gill, spotted the ring while organizing a box of items from the desk with Parent Liason, Gloria Salazar. “Gloria and I were rummaging through and organizing clips, pens, highlighters, etc.,” noted Gill. “That’s when I came across an old nasty-looking class ring. I picked it up and couldn’t really read anything on it because it was too dirty, but we could tell it was the class of 1965.”

At that point, Gill was determined to get the ring back to its rightful owner. “My wife and I took it to Nathan’s Jewelers that afternoon,” stated Gill. “I explained the situation to the Assistant Manager, Dale Pittman, and he took the ring and started working on it. After 20 to 30 minutes, he came out and showed me the ring. It was an incredible transformation.”

Pittman informed Gill that the ring was gold and likely worth around $800 to $1,000. “I offered to pay him for cleaning it up but he refused,” Gill said. “He told me to tell the owner it was cleaned upcompliments of Nathan’s Jewelers.”

With the ring cleaned the initials “JCH” were now visible. Gill then asked Heather Nix, who works in the BHS Digital Media Center (library), to locate the 1965 annual to see if any students’ names were a match.

“I searched through 1964 and 1965 for possibilities with the initials ‘JCH,’” explained Nix. “Only two men were possible in the yearbooks for those years.”

The two possible matches were Jimmy Hair and James Harris.

“I knew some of the Hair family so I started with that name,” said Gill. Through a series of calls, Gill was eventually able to speak to Jimmy Hair’s wife who confirmed that the ring didn’t belong to her late husband.

“She told me that his middle name did not begin with the letter ‘C’ and that she had Jimmy’s high school ring at home,” explained Gill.

At this point, Gill and Nix began to look into James Harris as the possible owner of the ring.

“My daughter has a Spokeo account so she started looking,” said Gill. “In Texas alone, there are 4,175 people named James Harris. We didn’t really know where to begin.”

Once again, Gill turned to Nix for help. “I talked with Heather again, and she had the idea of posting it on the Facebook Brownwood High School Alumni pages,” said Gill.

Using the internet and social media, Nix learned that Harris’ middle name was a match, but that he had passed away in March of this year. Next year would have been his 50th class reunion.

“In doing a Google search, we found Mr. Harris’ obituary and noticed that his middle name was Curtis, but Google offered no other leads,” said Nix, who then posted a message to the Class of ’65 Facebook page to see if she could get any additional contact information for his family.

“Social media is amazing,” said Gill. “That evening Heather called me with new information. I was saddened to learn that James Harris passed away, however, Heather did have a phone number for his wife.”

Gill then called James’ wife, Gladys Harris, and after explaining the whole story she thought it would be a good idea to contact Jimmy’s daughter, Jamie Harris, in Illinois about returning the ring to her. Gladys informed the daughter of the recovered ring and she proceeded to contact Gill.

“Jamie Harris called me later that evening and I told her the whole story of how we found her father’s ring,” explained Gill, noting how appreciative she was to get the ring and how much it meant to her, especially in light of his recent passing. “She was so excited.”

Harris was a fireman for the City of Dallas for 29 years. According to the obituary published in the Dallas Morning News, Harris was affectionately known as “Big Daddy” to the members of the Dallas Fire Department.

“James will forever be in our hearts,” read the final line in the memorial announcement.

In addition, it was discovered that Harris was honored in 2002 for his years of service with the Dallas Texas Fire Department, receiving the department’s highest award for Extra-Ordinary Service to the Dallas Community.

This was only the beginning of a much broader back-story into the life of James Harris. As it turns out, upon closer examination of the BHS yearbooks, Gill noticed that Harris’ name and photo were mentioned several times in the athletics sections for state and regional championships in track, football, and basketball.

Gill and Nix didn’t know they had stumbled on to a piece of memorabilia that would eventually highlight the story and life of a former BHS star athlete.

“He was one of the best athletes to come out of Brownwood,” said Kirk Wall, former track teammate of Harris and retired owner of the local family business, TWT Moulding Co. Inc. Wall was pictured with Harris in a photo of the 1965 track squad in the ’65 BHS yearbook.

Wall also noted that Jeff Smith, Vice President of Smith and Sharpe Insurance in Brownwood, was also a teammate of Harris and would likely have some stories to share.

“I went through school with him, and we had some fabulously good teams in football, basketball, and track,” said Smith when asked about playing sports with Harris at Brownwood High School. “He ran second leg on the sprint relay and third leg on the mile relay. I don’t know if we ever got beat my senior year in either relay.”

Photos on display in Smith’s office showcase the 1964 state championship teams in track for the 400 meter relay and the 1600 meter relay, both of which include Harris.

“He was a fun guy,” said Smith, as he reflected on some of the more light-hearted memories of Harris. “I can remember one time Coach Snodgrass caught him and a couple of our teammates sneaking out to go get donuts one night at a track meet. He (Snodgrass) let them get all the way back to the room and then he went in there and took them.”

Smith also played football with Harris. “His sophomore year, my junior year, in football we were 11-0 and went to the quarterfinals to play Dumas in that famous game in Lubbock,” Smith recalled. “It was 105 degrees or something, and we had them down for the first half. Then in the second half, we just did not play well. We had a couple senior guys get hurt and we ended up getting beat by them and they went on to win the state championship that year hands down. We could have done it, but that was the only bad half of football we had the whole year.”

Harris continued playing football after high school as well, playing for the University of Houston (1966), Howard Payne University (1967/1968), and even one year in the NFL for the Washington Redskins (1969).

Harris’ achievements in athletics were again recognized in 2002 when he was honored by being inducted into the Gordon Wood Hall of Champions in Brownwood, where his accomplishments are still on display today.

It must have been meant to be that this dusty old ring would be found after so many years and make its way back home to the Harris family, though nobody expected how well it would fulfill its purpose in marking the achievement of a Brownwood High School graduate all these years later.

“I wish I knew the story of how the ring got into the desk,” said Gill. “It may have been in there a very long time.”

More important than the ring is that Harris’ life and achievements are not forgotten, and while Harris was obviously a skilled athlete, his memory lives on in his family, friends, community, and fellow firefighters, as well as former school classmates and teammates.