Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Norman Howard Harris.
Engineer & Historical Society Leader, 1941-2013.

Norman Howard Harris, a life-long resident of Newhall and a member of one of the town's most respected local families, passed away Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. He was 71. He died of complications following a sudden stroke caused from a massive hematoma in the brain that he had experienced four days before.

Norman Harris was born Sept. 26, 1941, to Walter and Betty Brown Harris in the Newhall Hospital on the corner of 6th Street and San Fernando Road (now Main Street). Norm and his "Band of Cousins" Sharon, Eddie, and Melanie Harris, along with his sister, Carolyn lived a charmed life in Newhall. He created cowboy towns in his backyard, complete with a jail where he would lock up his little sister, often forgetting about her for hours. He built and raced coasters much like Hal Roach's "Our Gang" down the neighbor hill. He rode his horse all over the hills and around the neighborhood of William S. Hart Park.

He went through the Newhall school system and graduated from William S. Hart High School in 1959, where he was notorious for creating dynamite in the high school chemistry lab and renting No. 2 pencils to less prepared students on test days.

Norm was in the All-Southern California Honor Band and was one of the "76 Trombones" in a performance at the Hollywood Bowl. He attended Whittier College in Whittier, Calif., graduating in 1963 with a degree in chemistry and minor in geology. In the summers of his college days, he worked as an intern for the Pacific Clay Products in Alberhill, Calif. His job was to stand with flags in hand to direct massive earth-movers, which came within inches of him as they scraped away the clay.

Norman earned a Ph.D. in Ceramic Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After he graduated, he took a trip around the world, and he traveled many places, visiting students with whom he had studied while in grad school. While taking off in Hong Kong, his plane crashed in the bay, and he swam to safety by climbing on a fishing boat. His parents received a telegram that he was "lost at sea." He often told the story how he stayed at the YMCA before the crash, only to find himself after the disaster, in the Hilton, having handmade, tailored suits created and sewn for him overnight. A woman in front of him on the plane was seated right where the plane broke apart and did not survive.

When in Shonan, South Korea, Norm and his Newhall friend Danny Agajanian created the first "sister city" with Newhall.

Norman worked in the high-temperature ceramic lab at McDonnell Douglas labs in Santa Monica, and at Hughes Raytheon in El Segundo, Calif. Portions of his masters and doctoral theses were published in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society in 1967 and 1968.

Norman, Cynthia and son Howard Harris in the doorway to their Newhall home, 1998. Click image to learn about the house.

Products based on these kinds of materials became available in the early 1970s, including transducers, actuators, sensors and coatings used with telescopes and precision optics, and a wide range of electronic devices. He invented a high-temperature material that would help stabilize telescopes to prevent distortions. He worked on developing the high-temperature tiles that cover the underbelly of the space shuttles, thus making it possible for the ships to re-enter Earth's atmosphere without burning up.

Norman and his collaborators continued to investigate and develop the potential of these and other high-temperature ceramic materials and their processing methods for the aerospace industry. At this time he started creating many inventions and patents, while he wrote professional papers on high-technical ceramics. He was awarded numerous patents for aerogels and porous tiles with microwave and broadband radiation-absorbing properties, infrared windows and domes, and methods of bonding polymeric parts without adhesives. Dr. Harris did extensive research on ceramic compounds with perovskite structures that have unusual piezoelectric, dielectric and ferroelectric properties.

Norman is past president of the National Institute of Ceramic Engineers (NICE) and was elected to the honor of "Fellow." He was past president of the Southern California branch of the American Ceramic Society. Drs. Norman Harris, Andre Galliath and Carl Frame, along with Cynthia Harris as registrar, created, wrote courses and taught classes for the Ceramic Correspondence Institute (CCI) to train and educate students in managing a high-temperature ceramic lab. When the school was sold to the American Ceramic Society, it was serving 1,450 students in 45 countries. While on the curriculum committee at L.A. Trade Tech., Dr. and Mrs. Harris established ceramic laboratory classes where Norm taught for several years.

Norman was a friend to many in the community, known for his affability and light-hearted sense of humor, always wearing his dapper hat. He in the past was a collector of '60s muscle cars and was often seen tinkering with them in his driveway. He had a running joke with Harry Bell and Scott Newhall on who had the fastest car.

He was also an avid supporter of preserving local history. He was a founding/charter member of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society in 1975, and served as its president and on its board of directors for many years. It was through the efforts of Norm, his wife Cynthia, and Ruth Newhall, that the society was able to get a steam locomotive donated by Gene Autry when he sold Melody Ranch in 1981. The Mogul No. 1629 sits outside the Saugus Train Station today. Norm and Bobby Chesebrough Sr. wanted to get the 1910 steam locomotive running first in William S. Hart Regional Park, then through downtown Newhall, then to Fillmore and on to Ventura. They both knew that to attract tourists from around the world to Newhall, a fully operational steam locomotive would achieve this, and both worked toward this goal for many years.

One of Norm's biggest thrills came in 1980 as he drove the lead car — his 1968 Dodge Charger — on the night Cynthia moved the Saugus Train Station with the support and finances of the whole community to Hart Park in Newhall. (He no longer owns that car.)

Norman had a lifelong interest in jazz. He regularly attended jazz concerts and Dixieland clubs in the Los Angeles area, and as he mastered the trombone he became a charter member of our community's Station House Five. The jazz combo entertained community members during the 1980s at Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society gatherings, the Newhall Fourth of July Parade, the SCV Boys & Girls Club Auction, and other celebrations such as Mentryville Ice Cream Socials.

There are many relatives, cousins, friends and dear neighbors who will join in the celebration of his life, which will be held at a later date.

A private interment was held at Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Newhall, Calif.

Because Norm's great-grandfather, Charles M. Hayes, founded the AAA School Safety Patrol in Chicago that now serves more than 500,000 students in the United States and more than 100,000 in Canada — a cause in which Norm strongly believed — the Harris family asks that condolences be made with donations in Norman's memory to the Charles M. Hayes AAA School Safety Patrol Advancement Fund, c/o AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 607 14th St. N.W. Suite 201, Washington, D.C. 20005. All foundation monies go to help create new School Safety Patrols in the U.S. and Canada. No funds are taken for administrative costs.

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