Seth and Lilli Harris honor Lillian and Milford Harris with gift to Mandel School

Seth and Lilli HarrisUntil her passing this year at the age of 104, Lillian Harris (FSM ’30, SAS ’33) embodied the ideals of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. One of a handful of women to earn a graduate degree from the school in the 1930s, she maintained devotion to its principles throughout her life—volunteering to help underprivileged children learn to read, leading the school’s visiting committee and supporting programs that advanced its mission.

In honor of the devotion of Lillian and her husband Milford (PHA ’29) to the mission of higher education, their son, Seth, and his wife, Lilli, have committed $500,000 to renovate and relocate the school’s Lillian and Milford Harris Library. Established in 1989 through Lillian’s generosity, it is considered the premier social work library in the region—fitting for a school whose social work program ranks ninth in the nation in U.S. News & World Report. 

As part of the renovation, the library will be moved from the school’s second floor to the first, underscoring its significance to the school’s mission and improving its overall accessibility. Library stacks will be relocated underground to provide more space for interdisciplinary research and new library resources within the updated first-floor location.

“We are honored and delighted by this gift from Seth and Lilli,” said Grover “Cleve” Gilmore, dean of the Mandel School. “It represents a wonderful testament to the legacy of Lillian and Milford, and allows us to place our outstanding library in the central location it so richly deserves.”

Lillian met her future husband Milford while they were students at Case Western Reserve. After graduating, Lillian and Milford, an alumnus of the School of Pharmacy, began a small compounding pharmacy on Cleveland’s West Side; Harris Wholesale evolved from this pharmacy to become the fifth-largest pharmaceutical wholesaler in the nation. After Milford died in 1972, Lillian continued to work for the family business well into her 90s.

Lillian Harris was vocal in her support of her school’s efforts to alleviate poverty, indifference and suffering in the local community and the world. To that end, she established the Harris Endowment Fund for student scholarships and the Lillian F. Harris Professorship, now held by Claudia Coulton.

Seth Harris fondly recalls regular trips with his mother to the public library, her infectious love of learning and strong desire for everyone to have educational opportunities. Even at age 95, she would drive herself to Cleveland-area schools to volunteer with literacy programs.

Seth Harris said the library is a tribute to his parents’ belief in higher education. As an experienced and successful entrepreneur, Seth served on the Weatherhead School of Management visiting committee from 1996 to 2006 and led a lecture series on entrepreneurship. He now spends much of his time golfing and enjoys advising young entrepreneurs on startup businesses.

Seth’s wife Lilli Harris founded the public relations firm LiefKarson in Beachwood. Previously she served as a vice president at Wyse Advertising and a journalist for the Cleveland Press. The couple spends much of their time in Arizona, but they still call Cleveland home.

“My mother-in-law was an inspiration to so many people,” said Lilli Harris. “She presented us with the opportunity to continue her legacy in a city that has been good to us and where both of us grew up. To be able to move forward with Lillian’s legacy is very special to us.”