September 25, 1947 – May 20, 2020
Pat Sparks Harris, the long-time backbone of Message (1999-2018), served most recently as our Associate Editor before she retired. What distinguished her 20-year career was that she never lost the keen realization that her work mattered.
Pat’s life came to a tragic end this week, the result of a horrific traffic accident on a Pennsylvania highway. In the final, final analysis we expect to find that she was running the Lord’s errands.
Mischief and Mission
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Pat was known for her active personality and mischief. She shared that she often tasted soap as a consequence for her “smart mouth.” Growing up, Pat played the accordion, piano and organ. And, though a beloved little sister to several protective brothers, she was a true caretaker to them. She married Leonard F. Harris, a religious literature salesman, or “literature evangelist” and associate publishing director in New York.
Together they reared two children, and then Pat became a single parent. Her children devoted their lives to ministry, like their mother. Daughter Lisa Quailey is part of the Volunteer Atlantic Union Adventist Youth Ministry (AYM) Compassion Advisory, and serves in the New York City Community Partner and Faith-based Networks. Her son L. David Harris is a prolific writer and longtime contributor to Message. He currently serves as the Communication Director for the Central Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Pat’s children with their spouses and children held an all-consuming and treasured space in Pat’s heart.
“Sisters are really special, each one designed for us by God. Some by birth and some by Divine Purpose,” said Alvin Kibble, vice-president Vice President for Big Data + Social Media, Public Affairs & Religious Liberty, Literature Ministries, and Executive Coaching, Training & Development at the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. Both a childhood friend and long-time colleague, Kibble remembered their last meal together, one that included plenty of chatter, teasing and laughter.
“She was a lovely Christian woman who loved the Lord and His people and His Church,” said Daniel Jackson, President of the Adventist Church in North America. “She would come by my office from time to time and we would just talk and laugh. She would often put on a stern face and pretend to be upset with me or the brethren but then, after a few moments she would break into laughter. Both Donna [his wife] and I loved her.”
“We have lost a great friend, sister in Christ, soldier on the battlefield, and prayer warrior of God,” said Alex Bryant, Secretary for the Adventist Church in North America and Chairman of the Message Executive Committee. “I will forever cherish her warm smile and thoughtful compassion. She seemed to always know intuitively when things were not quite right with you. At those particular moments for me, she would often come and just say that she was going to send up a special prayer for me. She did it in a way that you knew that she knew something was on your heart but she would not pry.”
“She was just texting us last week,” said Dwayne Crawford, Owner of Byrd Tire in Hagerstown, Maryland. While they may not have always known her name, everybody in town knew the kind lady who stopped to chat, and leave books.
“As a former vice president of the Review and Herald Publishing Association and Editor of Message Magazine (1999- 2007), one of the distinct privileges and experiences I enjoyed was the hiring of Pat Harris as my Executive Assistant and Associate Editor,” said Ron C. Smith, PhD, D.Min., President of the Southern Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. “I was always impressed with her missional heart for the salvation of underprivileged people. Our professional, but, fun-loving relationship as brother and sister transcended geographical relocations over the years since we worked for seven years together in the same office. I’ll never forget her passion for prison ministry and the circulation of Message Magazine copies in urban communities.”
In 1985, as an adult learner, Pat completed her Bachelor’s degree in Public Health with an emphasis in alcoholism counseling from York College, part of the City University of New York network. She became the owner of Sparks Funeral Home in Brooklyn, the business her beloved brother Chester Sparks built from the ground up. Once, for a major protest, Pat loaned an empty casket to activist and civil rights leader, Al Sharpton. The casket was an important statement against police brutality and killings, a cause that stirred fire in Pat’s spirit. She also worked with influencer and activist Dennis Dillion, a pastor whose Brooklyn Christian Center ran a long-running black, weekly newspaper called the New York Christian Times.
Another central value for Pat was advocacy in the interest of young people and children. Fiercely protective and always engaged, she would often chastise senior adults who were less than patient and understanding. She hated their dismissiveness: “Excuse me,” she would point her finger, “how old was Jesus?”
It was the work of literature evangelism that defined Harris most. This intensely personal, middle-of-the-sidewalk kind of introduction to Jesus still works. She would regale, but not with stories of conquest. Instead, her eyes would moisten when she recounted the Spirit’s leading, the providential meetings, and the opening of hearts. She was grateful to play a part.
We once took a six-hour road trip. Every gas station attendant, toll booth operator, and passerby received a book, magazine or tract. Sometimes she made me give it to them. I once told her I found an unpriced sharing book on the shelf in the media department at Wal-Mart. She looked away with a wryness that let me know she had been sharing in stealth mode. And, true to Christ’s mandate, Pat made sure she attended church services monthly at a Maryland prison from which she always left inspired.
“The first time I met Ms. Pat,” said Garrison Hayes, Pastor of the Community Praise Center in Alexandria, Virginia where Pat attended regularly, “we sat down at Sabbath lunch and talked for over an hour! We talked about how much she loved her family and she shared some of the fascinating and complicated parts of her upbringing. I was captured by her outstanding and honest storytelling abilities, and befriended by her endearingly infectious smile.”
Pat Harris was not one to stand in front of a crowd—ever—to tell her shockingly painful life-story. Yet, she shared it, personally, one-to-one. Though so many knew of her personal heartaches, we also caught her testimony of forgiveness. Though we often shuddered to think of her history of childhood trauma and mistreatment, she schooled us in people-loving. Never one to waste a good lesson, she encouraged the habit of seeking God in prayer for everything. “And, I’m not just talking to you,” she would say, “I’m talking to me.”