Dr. Sky Harris. Chief of Surgery: Miami Inspiration Hospital 1909-1966
He was bright and talented by all accounts from those who knew him well. And he walked out of Northwestern University with a medical degree just in time to join the growing ranks of the unemployed. The year was 1931, and the country was entering a depression where jobs were hard to find and money was scarce.
But Ira (Sky) Harris, never let obstacles stand in his way, and he had quite a few over his lifetime to test his mettle. After serving for a few years at Good Samaritan in Phoenix, he accepted a position with the government to minister to working men living in camps around the state. It was his work in treating “nearly 1300 patients every ten days in the CC Camps” that brought the young surgeon to the Globe-Miami area.
And eventually to the attention of John Bacon, who was then Chief of Surgery for the old Miami Inspiration Hospital. A friend and colleague of Harris, Dr. T.E. Matheson wrote to his daughter Annie, “It was a hard time in the country. Folks were pulling out of the Depression and there was not a lot of work to be found. Those camps would have been a brutal, short life for many people and I am sure, as a doctor, it would have been very frustrating.
Diseases he treated then would have included rampant tuberculosis, diphtheria and whooping cough. At that time… in the late 30’s, many young doctors who came out of medical school in the late 30’s had a difficult time finding a place to practice. They either went to work for a hospital for almost no pay, or for an older doctor from whom they could eventually inherit an established practice. County programs paid very little.” He added that the offer to work for the mines would have seemed like an excellent position in those days. It has been said that Dr. John C. Bacon, who had been hired by Miami Copper Company in 1910 to head up the new mine hospital asked Harris if he would fill in for him while he was on vacation.
Perhaps it was his intent to “try him out in the position” all along, because soon after that period, the 26year old was asked to step into Bacon’s position as Chief of Surgery. A post he kept until 1966 when he died of a heart attack at the age of 57. (Just a few months shy of the completion of the new hospital known today as Cobre Valley Community Hospital.) Harris was an exceptional surgeon by many accounts and it was reported by one family member that “patients returning from MAYO Clinic, (the most prestigious medical institution in the country at that time), would be admonished to return here to Miami, saying “…that right at M & I was as fine a surgeon as they could require.” As Chief of Surgery of the hospital, back in the days before managed care and Medicaid, Harris was the final authority on how the hospital was run and what could be done. Dr. Matheson added, ““Doctors in the mines would have been the closest thing to God that you or I could envision…The life that the CEO’s, mine and smelter superintendents, chief surgeons etc had in ‘Miama’ in those days would have been about as comfortable and exciting as you could ever devise. I think Sky burned the candles at both ends and enjoyed all of it; the practice, the lifestyle, and the whole thing.”
As Dorothy Hasselbauer, an X-ray technician who worked with him for nearly 11 years, says, “I think besides my husband, I can say I loved Dr. Harris. He made you feel wonderful. He would often come up and hug me if I was having a bad day and ask what was wrong. It was never a feely/touchy thing. Just a sincere gesture. One he often did with many who worked with him. We all loved him. He was kindness itself. He made us laugh.”
Harris was often invited to staff parties, although he rarely attended. But when the nurses bet him that he wouldn’t show up for their Hawaiian Luau wearing a sarong, the game was on. The nurses pooled together their meager salaries and bought an authentic sarong, and Harris arrived in style and collected on the bet. As Dorothy remembers, “Dr. Harris always loved a challenge…and if there was a bet involved (even a small one), he was there.”
A plaque honoring Dr. Harris hangs in the Surgery wing of Cobre Valley Community Hospital, and his daughter Annie ‘Harris’ Wittke is in the process of pulling materials together for a book. If you have stories or information to contribute to the subject of Sky Harris, please e-mail Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to 9831 Dove Bend Circle, South Jordan Utah 84095. Harris is remembered by many who knew him as “a true and faithful friend. A man who was honest, fearless and chivalrous.”
Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.