This particular “Rat” turned out to be one of Obion County’s favorite and most-beloved pets.
Individual as a fingerprint and a noted businessman, community activist, Union City Golden Tornado supporter and avid St. Louis Cardinals fan, William Thomas “Bill” Harrison — better known as “Rat” his entire adult life — left a long and storied legacy with his passing Thursday.
To say Harrison was active in his 86 years is an understatement.
A student in the Union City School System who had a paper route when he was 11, “Rat” — who was given the nickname in the eighth grade, but always claimed he couldn’t remember why — earned an amazing 18 athletic letters in high school while participating in football, basketball, baseball, track and boxing. He purported that football was a tougher game back then and had the leather helmet to prove it. While in high school, Harrison began a 17-year stint in the National Guard.
After high school, Harrison played semi-pro baseball for the Union City Greyhounds in the 1950s and later tried out for two professional franchises. He also was instrumental in organizing both the Union City Little and Babe Ruth Leagues, soliciting the original sponsors for each league while also serving as a coach, manager and umpire when needed.
Later, he was an integral part of a group that campaigned to raise $300,000 to update the local baseball field to resurrect the Union City Greyhounds of the Kitty League — the same organization he played for as a youth.
A real-life “people person,” Harrison’s circle of friends and acquaintances was wide-ranging and included those from all walks of life, even Cubs fans. He was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, and attended First Baptist Church his entire life, where he served as president of the Carlton Sunday School Class for 25 years. He enjoyed a stellar 47-year tenure in the banking business, which began at the former Old & Third National Bank in 1955 and concluded at the former First State Bank.
Forever loyal to his beloved St. Louis Cardinals, “Rat” was a wealth of sports knowledge and statistics — his booming voice and sly smile accompanying an often-heard “How ’bout them Redbirds” during many mid-summer encounters. Aside from Cardinal baseball, he also loved Sunday dinner at Boyette’s, brains and eggs at Searcy’s Restaurant and afternoon banter at the Bennett’s Men’s Club.
Harrison had a genuine passion for our community. He served on Union City’s city council for 12 years and the Union City School Board for 15 years, where he served as chairman and spearheaded efforts to start the Top 10 dinner program for academic achievement. Harrison was a tireless supporter of numerous civic clubs and activities in Union City and Obion County, including a 40-year association with the Jaycees and Chimes for Charity. He joined Rotary Club (Fulton and Union City) in 1959 and was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow in 1976. As a capstone to a life of service, he was honored at the 2013 Pride of Obion County luncheon, where he reportedly spoke for two hours without notes.
Mayor Terry Hailey said he was sorry to hear of the passing of Harrison.
“He served the City of Union City with dedication on both the council and school board. His larger than life presence will be missed by all who knew him. I don’t know that anyone has ever promoted Union City with more passion,” Hailey said.
Danny Leggett, who served on the Union City city council with Harrison, had this to say: “When I was first appointed and then elected as a Union City councilman, I really didn’t know Rat that well. But that didn’t last long. With his very outgoing personality, he fast become one whom I called a good friend.
“Rat had been in the National Guard with my dad (Glen Leggett). He told me once early in my tenure ‘Leggett (He almost always called me that), what do you think that Glen would think about you being an elected official?’ When I answered that I wasn’t sure what that he would think, Rat said ‘I think that your dad would be very proud of you.’ I’ll always remember that.
“I’ll also always remember that he was very funny, because you never knew what he might say next. Although I didn’t always agree with him on city matters, I always respected his opinion because he felt that it was what he thought was best for the citizens of Union City”
Union City city councilman Frank Tucker said, “I was saddened to hear of the passing of Rat Harrison. He was my Little League coach many years ago, and was a source of encouragement when I sought the office of city councilman. He always treated me like I was ‘somebody’ whenever we ran into each other out in public. There will not be another one like him.”
Born on Nov. 18, 1931, in the Midway community, Harrison was a life-long Obion County resident and was the son of the late Richard and Nettie (Matheny) Harrison.
Funeral services are set for 3 p.m. Sunday at First Baptist Church Union City, with Bro. Eddie Mallonee, Dr. Cecil Sewell and Dr. Bill Sims officiating.
Visitation will be held 4-8 p.m. Saturday at White-Ranson Funeral Home and from 1:30 until the hour of service on Sunday at the church.
Pallbearers will be Lanny Callicott, Ray Burden, Frank Johnson, Bill Burkett, Willis Alexander, Mathew Gray, Pete Harrison, Charles Whitby, Tony Maness, Claud Billingsley, Clay Billingsley, Wade Maness and Graham Nelson.
Honorary pallbearers will be members of Carlton Sunday School Class of First Baptist Church.
He was preceded in death by his wife and childhood sweetheart, Melba Joyce (Pitzer) Harrison, who passed away in February of 2000.
Harrison is survived by four children and their spouses: Claudia and Tony Maness, Carmen and Claud Billingsley and Thomas “Pete” Harrison, all of Union City, and Mary Elizabeth Wilson of Clinton, Ky. A fifth child, William “Bill” Harrison, preceded him in death.
Several grandchildren and great-grandchildren also survive. They include Lacy Maness Nelson and spouse, Graham, and their children, Arden Graham Nelson and Charles McClain Nelson of Huntsville, Ala.; Nolan Wade Maness of Vancouver, Wash.; Adam Clayton Billingsley and spouse, Emily, and their child, Winston Thomas Billingsley; Allyson Colby Gray and spouse, Matthew, and their children, Harrison Kirk Gray, Carsen Dow Gray, Mattie Jane Gray and Allyson Anne Gray of Union City; Hannah Wilson and Andrew Wilson of Clinton, Ky., and Noah Charles Harrison and Sophia Joyce Harrison of Benton, Ky.
A sister, Francis (Harrison) Hines of Memphis, also survives.
He was preceded in death by three siblings: Marion (Harrison) Pannell of Michigan; Bobby “Mouse” Harrison of North Carolina; and Richard Dale “Termite” Harrison of Ohio.
Harrison requested that friends honor his memory by supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and/or Obion County Hometown Walk of Hope.
Condolences may be sent to the family at the funeral home website: www.white-ranson.com.