50 Heroes: Dr. Elizabeth Harris

March 16, 2020

Leadership FellowsDr. Elizabeth (Libby) Harris, PhD, the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine’s first faculty member, has been a trailblazing role model since the school opened in 1970. Her dreams for TCOM and close relationships with mentors Drs. Henry Hardt and George Luibel allowed her to accomplish much in a field that was largely, up to that time, a man’s world – all the while raising four children.

In TCOM’s early days, offices were in the hospital attic. Dr. Harris and others stepped carefully over ceiling joists and tried not to touch the surrounding pink insulation. Eventually, she convinced Dr. Luibel to purchase permanent flooring.

Money was tight. Local osteopathic doctors donated books for the first class of students, as well as the majority of books to fill library shelves. Professors had to occasionally teach outside their field of expertise.

Dr. Virginia Ellis once recalled finding Dr. Harris, who was 9-months pregnant, surrounded by textbooks and scribbling on paper. When Dr. Ellis asked what she was doing, Dr. Harris replied, “I’ve got to teach a class on pathology, and there’s no one else to do it.” The next day, she taught pathology — then shortly after went into labor and early the next morning delivered her 4th child, a daughter.

Dr. Harris earned her undergraduate degree from Texas Wesleyan University, her masters degree in microbiology from Texas Christian University, and her doctorate in microbiology at what is now UT Southwestern Medical Center.

She was founding Chair of TCOM’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Dean of Admissions, Chair of the Curriculum Committee, served on the Board of Examiners, and became an Emeritus Professor in 1995. She created a legacy of professionalism and dedication at the HSC and was among the first recipients of the TCOM Founders Medal.

Dr. Harris’ daughter Dr. Margaret B. Walter (TCOM 1987) said, “She was a tough teacher and, at times, not well liked by some students. I can remember her saying something like ‘they may not like me, but bi-golly they are going to know their MICRO’, and they did. Regardless, she was always very proud of the graduates and the quality physicians they became.”

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