S. Miller Harris, 91, the long-time CEO of Eagle Shirtmakers, died June 9 of pneumonia, in Spinnerstown, Pa., near Quakertown in Bucks County. He was a native Philadelphian.
Miller, a legend in the shirt industry, considered his crowning achievement his 70-year marriage to the former Mary Louise Snellenburg. Both graduated from Cheltenham High School, Miller class of ’38 and Mary Louise, ’41. Harris graduated from Cornell University with a B.A. in English in 1943.
Harris remained committed to Cornell and the Class of 1943 throughout his life. In 2009, Cornell honored Harris with the Vanneman Award for Outstanding Class Leader.
After their marriage in 1942, Mary Louise, 18, joined Miller, 21, at Cornell, where he was editor of The Cornell Daily Sun, the campus newspaper. When war broke out, Harris beat Ithaca’s daily newspaper in spreading news of the attack on Pearl Harbor to locals and students alike. Author Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote for The Sun with Harris, called him his mentor; they became lifelong friends.
A first sergeant in the 69th Infantry during World War II, Harris served in France and Germany from 1943 through 1944.
Harris joined the shirt business, designing and manufacturing Eagle Shirts, founded in Philadelphia by his great-grandfather, Jacob Miller, in 1867. When Harris took the reins of Eagle, he was a pioneer in the Ivy League look.
In the ’60s, he partnered with maverick advertising wizard Howard Gossage to create the first Eagle ad campaign in years. In response to the clamor about the innovative ads, Simon and Schuster published Dear Miss Afflerbach or The Postman Hardly Ever Rings 11,342 Times, by Harris and Gossage.
In the late 1960s, Harris boarded a plane to Paris and obtained a license from couturier Pierre Cardin, spiriting Eagle into the lead in designer shirts.
Shirtwise, Harris returned to the classics in the mid 1990s and obtained the first American license to design, manufacture and sell Viyella shirts, made of the British company’s luxurious year-round fabric. When the Viyella license expired, Harris, then 90, launched a new brand, Jacob Miller Shirtmakers, named for his great-grandfather.
A war story he wrote was included in the anthology A Short Wait Between Trains in 1991.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Jill Harris, Susan Laun and Prue Gershman; a son, Dr. S. Miller Harris Jr.; 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Donations may be made in his honor to Cornell University, designated to the class of 1943 Scholarship Fund #042022, Box 223623, Pittsburgh PA 15251-2623; or go online to: giving.cornell.edu.