Frances Maxine Pettit Harris, 88, of Savannah, the wife of Richard J. (Dick) Harris, Sr., died May 24, 2020 at Memorial Medical University Hospital in Savannah, Ga from COVID-19 complicated by advanced Alzheimer’s Disease.
Maxine lived an illustrious, creative and intellectual life filled with her passions for music & art, human rights, politics, motherhood, gardening and traveling. As a classical pianist, her fingers brought to life the likes of Beethoven, Chopin, and Mozart for audiences far and wide. Those same fingers felt equally at home crafting art and coaxing beauty and life out of the earth, in her love of camellias, trees, and all forms of flora.
Born on October 23, 1931, Maxine was the only child of the late Frank Bradley Pettit and Lorris Dean Rash Pettit of West Monroe, La. Piano lessons began at eight years of age and during high school she was the pianist for the First Baptist Church of West Monroe until she left to attend Louisiana State University. At LSU she earned a Bachelor’s and Master of Music degrees, and was a member of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and Sigma Alpha Iota (SAI) national music fraternity for women. With an early interest in governance, she represented her senior class in the LSU Student Senate.
Following graduation, Maxine moved to Atlanta, Georgia with her first husband, the late James B. Pilcher, where they raised three children. She taught piano for 25 years and was recognized for utilizing braille music notation for her visually impaired students. She was the church organist for 30 years at
Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and then at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of Marietta. Maxine helped locate and install a 1929 Holtkamp pipe organ at Holy Trinity, which was removed from a church in Springfield, Missouri. Inspired by the beauty of this organ, she successfully completed the AAGO examinations of the American Guild of Organists (AGO). As a member of AGO’s Atlanta chapter she organized and chaired its first professional concerns committee, encouraging churches to adequately compensate their musicians,
In 1990 she married Savannah attorney, Dick Harris, and retired to Savannah joining his church, White Bluff United Methodist, where they enjoyed many years singing in the choir together. Maxine and Dick loved to travel in the US and abroad, including trips to China, Vietnam, Japan, India–and Paris, Maxine’s favorite destination. Over the years she continued to serve as an interim church organist in Savannah playing for many local churches including the Lutheran Church of the Ascension, and First Presbyterian.
Maxine surrounded her life with beauty, humor and a sense of style, and she also believed in the power of ideas. Her strong social and political beliefs were reflected in her tireless advocacy for civil rights, gender equality, equal pay and a woman’s right to choose. She expressed these views in lobbying efforts, and writing legislative reports and numerous Letters to the Editor which appeared on the Opinion page of the Savannah Morning News. In 2007, she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Democratic Party of Georgia, reflecting her longstanding commitment to local and state politics, including her work with Get Out the Vote campaigns, the League of Women Voters, and her service on the Chatham County Democratic Executive Committee.
Maxine is survived by Dick, her daughters Lydia Dean Pilcher (Mark Friedberg) and Martha Claire Pilcher (Shera Mohammed); her only son Jay Bradley Pilcher (Linda Blair); stepdaughter Susan Reyes (Vance), stepson Richard Harris, Jr. (Courtney); granddaughters Lucy Friedberg and Jasmine Mohammed; grandsons Oakley Friedberg, Taj Mohammed and Saif Mohammed; step grandsons Joseph Reyes and Michael Reyes; and step granddaughters Mattie Harris and Elisabeth Harris.
A private graveside service will be held in the Greenwich Cemetery on Wednesday, May 27th. The family looks forward to seeing extended family and friends for a Celebration of Life service at the church, at a time in the future to be determined when larger groups are able to gather safely.
Remembrances: Alzheimer’s’ Association Georgia Chapter, 41 Perimeter Center East, Suite 550, Atlanta, GA 30346; White Bluff United Methodist Church, 11911 White Bluff Road, Savannah GA 31419; and Telfair Museums, P.O. Box 10081, Savannah, GA 31412.