William Harmon, former president of HCC Central College, dies at 76

December 29, 2017

William W. Harmon, a trailblazing leader in higher education administration who oversaw the modernization of Houston Community College’s Central College during an 11-year tenure at the school, died Tuesday after a brief illness, family members and school leaders said. He was 76.

Harmon served as president of the 18,000-student Central College, which includes campuses in downtown and Houston’s south side, from 2005 to 2016. A dignified presence, with a wit that put faculty and students at ease, Harmon ushered through several construction projects and new initiatives that transformed the old San Jacinto High School into a sparkling downtown centerpiece. During his tenure, the Central College added an honors college, the Learning Emporium tutoring center, the Black History Committee and scenic green space in Midtown.

“He was a visionary, and he had a vision for HCC Central,” said his wife of 48 years, Beverly Harmon. “I think he was pleased with what he had accomplished there, but there was always more that he needed and wanted to do.”

Harmon spent his entire career as an administrator in colleges and universities across the country, leading departments at a time when black men rarely held such significant positions. He served as dean of health sciences at Wichita State University and vice president of student affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, then took the same position at the University of Virginia.

While in Charlottesville, Harmon and his wife, an assistant dean for students affairs at the university’s law school, became the first people of color to live in the school’s Academical Village, a set of historic mansions built by slaves in which administrators lived.

“I think he felt it was an accomplishment of his, but I think he also felt the students benefited from seeing that and being a part of that era at the University of Virginia,” said Harmon’s daughter, Hilary Harmon.

Harmon was raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, the son of a truck driver and retail worker, who both emphasized the importance of education. He joined the U.S. Army, served for four years in the Military Police Corps, then enrolled at the Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, where he played basketball. After graduating, Harmon earned his Master’s degree from Seton Hall University and a Ph.D. at Kansas State University.

Harmon spent about 10 years working as an administrator at each stop in his career, employing a unique ability to relate to both faculty and students.

“Although he held many honors and was extremely successful, he wasn’t one who felt like his ego had to be the biggest one in the room,” Hilary Harmon said.

In 2005, Harmon and his wife wanted to move closer to Hilary, their only daughter, who was living in Houston at the time. As the couple prepared for the move, Harmon received offers for administrative positions at the University of Houston and Houston Community College, opting for the latter.

“I think he saw it as a challenge to make HCC Central Campus something that we in the community could be proud of,” Hilary Harmon said. “It really is a college that means a lot to the Houston area.”

Harmon is survived by his wife, daughter and 12-year-old grandson, Christopher. Beverly Harmon declined to elaborate on the nature of her husband’s illness. Funeral services are pending.