Roland H. Harris Jr.

Every so often, a local paper or broadcast asks the perennial question, "Where is Glen Allen?" For some, it is burgeoning Innsbrook and environs. For others, it's the quiet railroad crossing at Mountain Road where the sense of timelessness is jarred only by an occasional passing freight or passenger train.

But turn the question around, "Who is Glen Allen?" and there would be no disagreement. At least until July 5 when Roland H. Harris Jr. died at age 68.

Just a few days before his death, the Henrico civic leader and amateur historian was discussing Glen Allen's evolution when the term edge city was used to refer to his community. Harris reportedly went ballistic. The idea that Glen Allen was a mere appendage to Richmond was anathema. For Harris, Glen Allen was a special spot in Henrico County not to be dismissed in sociological jargon.

He had a point: Short Pump is a recent memory and Mechanicsville is mauled by sprawl, but Glen Allen has largely maintained its rolling, rural character. Thanks in no small part to Harris: He placed historical markers along the roadways, kept track of archival materials and helped create the Glen Allen Youth Center to keep local kids focused on positive things.

"Wherever we traveled, he didn't say he was from Richmond, but from Glen Allen," his daughter, Briar Chatterjea, told mourners who overflowed the chapel and into the hallway of Bliley's on Staples Mill Road at the July 8 funeral.

"More than anything, he instilled in my brother and me the importance of community," Chatterjea said. Although she lived in New York City, her father subscribed to her local Brooklyn Heights paper and constantly quizzed her about this issue or that cause.

As mourners, black and white, and a large contingent of graying Glen Allen American Legionnaires filed into the chapel, an organist played softly. The medley included such patriotic and Southern tunes as "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny." And then, could it be, "Dixie"? Hearing the battle song seemed highly anachronistic during a time when Richmonders argued the pros and cons of a placing an image of Robert E. Lee on the floodwall.

But Harris would have been delighted. "I wouldn't be surprised if Roland sat up straight," murmured a Kappa Alpha fraternity brother from Harris' college days at William & Mary, gesturing toward the open coffin.

Later in the service, friends were invited to stand and share special memories. One teary-eyed pal remembered late-night philosophical discussions in Harris' backyard gazebo — or absurd talks such as whether Harris' dog, Sunny, "The meanest cocker spaniel this side of the Mississippi River," had a soul.

Another friend regretted that he never returned a book that Harris had lent him a long time ago titled "J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier." "If you knew Roland, you knew a real treasure. He was Glen Allen's last cavalier."

Harris suspected that our nation's villages, towns and cities were losing their identity by rapid growth and increasing mobility. But he held his ground not by backward thinking, but forward thinking based always on what he perceived as good for local communities ... whether in Brooklyn Heights, New York or his beloved Glen

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