O llie Harris was born September 2, 1913, son of J. Frank and Jessie Hambright Harris in Anderson, South Carolina. His mother, Jessie Hambright, was a direct descendant of Colonel Frederick Hambright who fought in the Revolutionary War and who served in the North Carolina General Assembly of 1775.
Ollie attended grammar school in Anderson, SC and in 1927 he came to Shelby, N.C. to live with his grandparents, J. Frank Harris, Sr. and Genie Miller Harris. He attended Shelby High School and graduated in 1931. In 1928 (while in school), Ollie worked for the Lutz-Jackson Funeral Home, which in 1933 became the Lutz-Austell Funeral Home. He was employed there until 1947. In 1934, Ollie married Abbie Jane Wall, daughter of Dr. Zeno and Ada Ramsey Wall. Dr. Wall was Pastor of First Baptist Church at that time. To this union was born Ollie Harris, Jr. who had two children, Ollie, III, and Elizabeth Wall Harris. A daughter, Jane Wall Harris, was born in 1938 and has two children, David and Kathy Hambright. Kathy gave him two great-grand children, Phillip Carter and Jada Katherine Blanton. John Oliver Harris, IV was born to John Oliver, III in March of 2000. Also in 1934, Ollie entered and graduated from Gupton-Jones College of Embalming in Nashville, TN. He became licensed as an embalmer and funeral director in 1935.
In 1943 Ollie entered the U.S. Army. He received his basic training at Camp Barkley, TX and Surgical Technician training at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX. He went overseas in the European Theatre of operation in October of 1944, serving in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and Austria with the 65th Field Hospital as a Surgical Technician and Staff Sergeant.
Sgt. Harris was serving in Bastogne, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944. During this time he was awarded the Bronze Star for services beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Harris was discharged in December 1945 at Fort Bragg, NC and returned to Shelby as an employee of Lutz-Austell Funeral Home.
In 1946 Harris assisted in the organization of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Shelby and became its first elected Commander. In July of the following year, Harris became the owner of Harris Funeral Home in Kings Mountain.
In 1946 Harris was elected Coroner of Cleveland County and was Coroner until 1970. In 1965, Harris was elected President of the North Carolina Coroner's Association. In 1954 Harris was elected as a member of the NC State Board of Embalmer's and served as its president in 1958. In 1960 Harris was elected as President of North Carolina Funeral Director's Association and served for one term.
Harris has served as Commander of the Kings Mountain American Legion, and the Kings Mountain Veterans of Foreign Wars. He has served as President of the Kings Mountain Lions Club, the Kings Mountain Red Cross Chapter and has served as a trustee of Gardner-Webb College for 1 term. Harris was a member and former chairman of the Deacon Board of Kings Mountain Baptist Church.
Harris became a member of the Shelby Volunteer Fire Department in 1934. On moving to Kings Mountain, Harris joined the Kings Mountain Volunteer Fire Department and remained there until 1969.
In 1970, Harris ran for NC Senate, was elected and served in the 1971-1972 session. Because of an eye operation Harris did not run in the 1972 election but ran in 1974 and was a member of the NC Senate for the 1975-1976, 1977-1978, 1979-1980, 1981-1982, 1983-1984, 1985-1986, 1987-1988, 1989-1990 sessions. Harris became the Chairman of the Senate Human Resources Committee in 1977, 1979, 1981,1983,1985,1987,1989.
Due to his leadership in Mental Health he was awarded the Valand Award in 1979, the outstanding Legislator Award in the field of Public Health by the North Carolina Association of Health Departments in 1979, also the outstanding legislator by the North Carolina Health Care Association in 1979.
In addition to Chairman of the Human Resources Committee, he was Vice-Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and the Senior Citizens Committee. He was a member of the Senate Rules Committee, Banking Committee, Judiciary Committee, Appropriations Committee and University Board of Governors Committee. He was a member of the Mental Health Study Commission, the Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission. He was also a member of the Governmental Operation Committee.
Harris has the record of holding public office longer than any other person in Cleveland County, 42 years. Harris has also served as a member of the Legislative Services Commission, Social Service Commission, and Emergency Medical Service Commission.
Harris was nominated by Governor James Martin and the NC Medical Society to receive the National "Nathan Davis" Award.
Ollie was elected in November of 1992 to serve his 10th term in the North Carolina Senate. Senator Harris was the first person to be elected from the newly formed district composed of Cleveland and Rutherford Counties.
Senator Harris had the distinction of being Dean of the North Carolina Senate. Senator Harris, who served as Chairman of the Human Resources Committee and who was committed to the health and well being of the citizens of North Carolina was also honored in his home district by having the newly completed Cleveland County Mental Health Building named in his honor.