Frank Harrison, M.D., Ph.D., 1913-2013
Frank Harrison was born on Nov. 21, 1913. The son of a Dallas neurologist, Dr. Harrison earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Southern Methodist University and studied for two years at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He then moved north to pursue a master’s degree and Ph.D. at Northwestern University. After a stint of teaching anatomy at the University of Tennessee in Memphis, he returned to Dallas as chair of anatomy at the UT Southwestern Medical School, where he completed his M.D. Dr. Harrison was a funded researcher studying biophysics of the brain and spinal cord. By 1972, his findings concerning the electrical activity of the nervous system had been published in journals for more than three decades.
Dr. Harrison pursued a long and distinguished career of service within The University of Texas System, notably at UT Southwestern, where he was associate dean of graduate studies. In 1966, UT System Chancellor Harry Ransom asked Dr. Harrison to launch the graduate program at UT Arlington. Within two years, Dr. Harrison had established six graduate departments approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Named president in Arlington in 1968, he fostered an atmosphere of collaboration and openness while demonstrating the desirable ability to run a tight ship. He was a detailed and skilled administrator who worked behind the scenes in advance of official actions to ensure their success.
On Nov. 4, 1972, in a specially called meeting in Austin, the Board of Regents hired Dr. Harrison as the first president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. “I am fully aware that this is a great loss to UT Arlington,” said Dr. Charles LeMaistre, who in 1971 had become UT System chancellor. “Dr. Harrison sees a great challenge in the San Antonio job since the UT System is beginning a new concept in coordinating teaching and research relating to medical and dental education.” Dr. Harrison, for his part, said he believed the health science center model would prove to be a wise use of taxpayer dollars.
Dr. Harrison named deans for the School of Medicine and Dental School of the Health Science Center and established the institution’s Executive Committee. During the 1970s, a $3 million laboratory animal resources area was completed as part of a $15 million School of Medicine expansion project and the Board of Regents authorized plans for a $9.5 million library building. The School of Nursing and Dental School buildings were constructed and dedicated. Dr. Harrison oversaw the transfer of the School of Nursing from the UT System into the Health Science Center, and presided over the establishment of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the School of Allied Health Sciences (now the School of Health Professions). He also launched the Health Science Center Development Board. It was a time of tremendous growth, and Dr. Harrison’s graceful leadership always accentuated the positive.
His presidency continued into the 1980s, and he joined other community leaders in 1984 at the announcement of the Texas Research Park, a biomedical research park for San Antonio. In 1984, Dr. Harrison made known his intentions to retire. Handed the reins of three young schools [Medical, Dental and Nursing], one that had just been formed [Graduate Biomedical Sciences] and another on the way [Health Professions] in November 1972, the years on his watch had been a time of extraordinary achievement. The Health Science Center, at its establishment, enrolled 500 students, employed 1,000 faculty and staff, and conducted sponsored research of $3 million. By September 1984, the Health Science Center enrolled more than 2,300 students, employed more than 3,000 faculty and staff, and conducted sponsored research of $32 million. The institution’s physical plant, which started with 440,000 square feet of the School of Medicine building, now stood at 1.6 million with the Dental School, School of Nursing and other buildings added. “We indeed have a high level of excellence, and, I think, a minimum number of problems,” Dr. Harrison said.
UT System Chancellor E. Don Walker made the following comments about Dr. Harrison’s long service to three UT institutions: “I don’t have a better friend in or out of higher education than Frank Harrison. The universities always are better off for [him] having been there.” Honors followed his retirement. In April 1985, Dr. Harrison was present for the dedication of the Frank Harrison Crosswalk, which connects the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, Audie Murphy Division, and University Hospital. In 1987 his presidential portrait was unveiled and in November 2000, Dr. Harrison was named president emeritus by the Board of Regents. The Frank Harrison Chair in Reproductive Endocrinology was created in his honor in 1990 upon the request of grateful faculty. Dr. Harrison was a periodic visitor to the Health Science Center in the years to come, including his return in November 2009 to celebrate the 50th-year anniversary of the institution’s founding legislation with President William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, and former President and UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. Dr. Harrison resided in Dallas and passed away on Aug. 9, 2013, just three months shy of his 100th birthday.