Irving Harris, the namesake of local concert hall, dies

Aspen Times writer

Irving Harris, whose name graces the Aspen Music Festival and School’s indoor concert hall, died on Saturday at his home in Chicago. He was 94.Harris was a part-time resident of Aspen for some 30 years, and owned a West End home within a stone’s throw of the Music Festival campus.Harris and his wife of 30 years, Joan, gave the Aspen Music Festival its first-ever seven-figure gift, in 1992. That donation was the foundation for a capital campaign that resulted in the 500-seat Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Hall, which opened in 1993.Harris Hall gave the Music Festival a second, smaller venue apart from the Music Tent, and allowed for the programming of winter concerts, giving the Music Festival a year-round presence. Joan Harris is the current chair of the Music Festival’s board of trustees.”He was very influential,” said Music Festival President and CEO Don Roth. “He understood philanthropy and we at the Music Festival were the beneficiaries of his and Joan’s passion for music. He had a great presence about him, and a great warmth.”Harris’ philanthropy extended beyond music into many areas. The Harrises gave a $39 million gift that made possible the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Music and Dance Theater of Chicago, which opened in November. It was the largest gift given to a performing arts organization in Chicago history. The Harrises have been supporters of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its MusicNOW series of new music concerts. Outside of the arts, Harris was active in children’s causes. He helped establish the Erikson Institute for Advanced Studies in Child Development at Yale University, his alma mater; the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families; the Beethoven Project, which served as a model for the Head Start program, and more.In 1996, he published a book, “Children in Jeopardy – Can We Break the Cycle of Poverty?” In 1986, Harris gave the gift that established the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.”He was a giant,” said Matthew Bucksbaum who, like Harris, is a resident of Chicago and Aspen, and was a friend of Harris’ for three decades. “He was bright and extremely generous with his own wealth. And extremely interested in children, and did many things to improve their lot.”A native of St. Paul, Minn., Harris graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale in 1931. He and his brother founded the hair-care company Toni Home Permanent, which was sold to the Gillette Safety Razor Co. in 1948.Harris then served as chairman of the Pittway Corp., a maker of alarms and home-security systems, and developed the Acorn Fund – now the Liberty Acorn Fund – in 1970. He remained chair of the Acorn board until age 92.Harris is survived by Joan; two daughters, Roxanne Harris Frank and Virginia Harris Polsky; and a son, William Harris.Funeral services are planned for tomorrow in Chicago.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail is