George Harris

                      Member of the 1964 Olympic Judo Team

                     January 15, 1933 to January 7, 2011


An inspirational man, a leading figure in judo and a member of the first United States Olympic Judo Team, George Harris passed away Friday afternoon. He would have been 78 next week.


“From the time we first met in 1955, George was my brother,” said Ben Nighthorse Campbell, retired U.S. Senator and a fellow member of that first Olympic judo team in 1964. “He may be gone but he will always be with me.”


Other members of that first team included James Bregman and Paul  Maruyama. Yosh Uchida was their coach.


Maruyama described Harris as a "a gentle giant, a true hero. A great Judoka has passed away.  The always smiling, the always optimistic, the always kind and caring George Harris was, simply put, just a wonderful human being.”


Losing Harris, said Maruyama, “there is suddenly a feeling of emptiness and loneliness to realize that a giant member of the small squad is no longer with us.  A true example of the Judo spirit, Olympic ideals, and sportsmanship in athletics, we and the entire world Judo community will all miss gentle George."


Harris was born in Kittrell, North Carolina. He was a boxer early on and didn’t venture into judo until he was about 21 in the military, he said in a video interview recorded at Jack Krystek’s School of Judo in Ozone Park, New York. Click to see the video.


Harris ascended some of the highest podiums on the world stage in addition to competing in the Olympics. He twice medaled gold at the Pan American Games. He was a four-time national champion and took the Air Force championship six times. In the Air Force, he taught hand-to-hand combat to military police.


USA Judo Board President Lance Nading said, “George Harris's humble nature never detracted from his ability to inspire young judoka to train their hardest and make every effort to achieve their dreams.


“In his more than five decades of serving judo in whatever capacity he was needed, he touched and positively impacted a countless number of lives,” Nading said. “He clearly embodied all of the founding Judo principals we hold so dear. All of American Judo will miss George for a long time to come.”


Friends said that Harris passed away peacefully in his wife’s arms.


Said Jim Bregman, another of his Olympic teammates, " I loved George. We were Judo brothers and I will miss him. The Judo World has lost one of it's greatest dancers."