4/15/10 ASHLAND, Ohio --Ashland resident and Ohio Senate President Bill Harris will address this year's Ashland University graduates. Harris will speak at the 10 a.m. commencement ceremony on May 8, which will include both undergraduate students and those earning graduate degrees.
Weather permitting, the commencement service will be held on Jones' Terrace on the front lawn of Founders Hall. In case of inclement weather, the event will be held in Kates Gymnasium.
Harris, who will retire later this year after 16 years as a state senator and five years as Senate president, will present an address titled "V=FDAR, Five Letters to Define Your Future."
Anyone who has been around Harris has become familiar with the motto of his beloved U.S. Marine Corps, "Semper Fi," meaning always faithful, and the tenets of "servant leadership." These principles have guided him throughout his life. As a decorated Marine, a successful small business owner, and now as president of the Ohio Senate, Harris believes that it is the responsibility of leaders to put those they serve first.
In March of 1953, Bill Harris enlisted in the Marine Corps where he served in the Korean War as a machine gunner and a platoon commander. After Korea he attended the U.S. Army Counterintelligence School, graduating first in his class. He received his commission in 1961 and served the remainder of his 23-year career with the USMC as an intelligence and counterintelligence officer, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam. Harris retired in 1977 from the military as a Major with numerous decorations for valor and outstanding service, including two Bronze Star awards and the Vietnam Medal of Honor First Class.
After earning his B.A. in Secondary Education from the University of Arizona, and retiring from the Marines, Harris and his family moved to Ashland, Ohio. In 1981, he established Bill Harris Chevrolet Dealership, which became one of the first authorized multi-General Motor franchise dealerships. Although he retired from the business in 1995, the dealership franchise is still run by his three sons and their families.
While still running his business, Harris was active in the local chamber of commerce where he worked to recruit and elect small business owners to public office. He believes that the perspectives of business owners - those who have had to make a payroll and navigate government bureaucracy to turn a profit -- are invaluable to a deliberative body like the General Assembly. Eventually, he realized that he should be willing to do what he was asking of others, and decided to run for the Ohio House in 1994.
Although he had not previously held a public office, Harris quickly moved up the ranks, serving in a number of leadership positions, including Majority Whip. In August of 2000, he was appointed to the Ohio Senate to serve the 19th Senate District, which includes Delaware, Knox, Morrow, Richland and a portion of Ashland counties.
From 2003-05, Senator Harris chaired the influential Senate Finance & Financial Institutions Committee, playing an integral part in developing state budgets. Then in 2005 - 10 years after he first reported for duty at the Statehouse -- his colleagues unanimously elected him Senate President. He was re-elected in both 2007 and 2009.
As Senate President, his primary focus has been on revitalizing the economy and creating more job opportunities for Ohioans. He led the effort to reform the state's outdated tax code, including the elimination of onerous taxes that had stifled business growth and a 21 percent income tax cut for all taxpayers. Recognizing that a good education is key to ensuring Ohioans are prepared for future jobs, he pushed to raise the bar on what primary and secondary students are expected to learn and to hold down the cost of tuition at all state colleges and universities.
For his legislative work, Harris has received numerous awards, including Watchdog of the Treasury, Guardian of Small Business and the Preservation of Democracy Award. He was the first legislator to be named AMVETS Legislator of the Year twice. In addition, Harris was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Ashland University and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Akron.
Senator Harris lives in Ashland with his wife, Cay. They have 11 grown children, 16 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.