John Harrison ’84, also a resident of Lookout Mountain, a member the Baylor advancement department, died on November 22, 2020 at age 55, after courageously battling the life-long effects of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and resulting kidney disease.
“It is a pleasure to recognize Marguerite Pippenger as the first John Harrison ’84 Magnanimitas Award winner,” said Shaw Wilson ’84 of Lookout Mountain, assistant head of school. “Marguerite truly embodies the spirit of giving while demonstrating a real love for her community and for Baylor, much like John did.”
The award comes with $500 for Pippenger to use in whatever creative, philanthropic efforts that are most meaningful to her. “The Magnanimitas Award gives us the opportunity to celebrate John Harrison and tell the story of Baylor’s great culture of philanthropy every year,” said Wilson.
Unknown to many, Pippenger and her family shared a special friendship with the Harrisons, who lived near them on Lookout Mountain. As his illness progressed, they pitched in to assist in any way they could. Before long, Pippenger and her sister, Janie ’21, were picking up Harrison on their way to school and dropping him off outside of his office in Hunter Hall. “I think my favorite memories of John are probably riding to school every morning with him. My favorite was when we accidentally let him go to work with two different shoes on; he was so mad at us but we couldn’t help but laugh,” says Pippenger. “Dunkin’ Donuts were a pretty important staple in our relationship if I’m being honest,” she laughs. “Every morning we would pressure Janie, who was driving, to get us doughnuts or stop somewhere and get a treat before school.”
When Harrison passed away over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2020, Pippenger’s thoughts turned to Harrison’s colleagues in Baylor’s development office. “I was trying to think of something special to do for his co-workers that would help brighten their day on that first day back from break. My mom had the idea to bring in doughnuts, but I was nervous because I knew how hard it would be to even walk up to Hunter and see his empty office. I placed them on the conference table and then ran into Scotty Smith ’89 and we talked about how John loved doughnuts. I saw how much it meant to them, but it also really helped me get over that hump of going back to school without him.
“One thing people need to know about John was how strong he was,” adds Pippenger. “Three days a week he had to sit in a dialysis chair which left him emotionally and physically exhausted. But after every dialysis treatment, he came out of his house with a smile. He was the most positive man I have ever met in my whole life. I mean, his job was talking to people all day, and he loved every second of it. He had so many physical challenges in his life, but he managed to persevere and seize the day. He truly did have greatness of spirit.”
The John Harrison ’84 Magnanimitas Award and Scholarship Fund launched in early 2021 thanks to the generosity of Harrison’s family and friends. In fewer than 12 months, $1.3 million was raised for this endowed fund, which will support the annual award and an annual scholarship for a returning Upper School student who is selected for the honor.
The award ceremony was attended by members of Harrison’s family, friends from the Class of 1984, and Baylor Upper School students. Invited guests attended a reception following in Hedges Library.