This week the eyes of the world are on the Augusta National Golf Club, where our favorite local golf tournament is played this week.
People-watching is almost as big as golf, and celebrity sightings are a premium as the rich and famous come from all over to check out The Masters.
But I was reminded this week of one of the more famous people to visit the Augusta National, a Columbia County resident who made an unscheduled visit 30 years ago.
That event defined what most people knew about Charlie Harris. But when Harris died in 2007, it was pretty clear he hadn’t let that event define who he was.
It was on Oct. 22, 1983, that Harris rammed his 1974 Dodge pickup through the gates of the Augusta National and held several people hostage at gunpoint in the clubhouse in hopes of talking to a man playing golf that day: then-President Ronald Reagan.
Harris, who’d been drinking, wanted to complain about having lost his job, which he blamed on uncontrolled immigration and foreign laborers (boy, does that sound familiar).
To no one’s surprise, Harris never got the chance to talk to the president; Augusta Chronicle photographers snapped a dramatic photo of Reagan being whisked from the scene in his limo, with Uzi-brandishing Secret Service agents hanging off the vehicle.
At least no one was hurt. Harris was arrested, tried and convicted. He went to prison, and like many others, found God there. Unlike most others, however, he didn’t lose that relationship with God after his release, and that more than anything else defined his life after the infamous gate-crashing episode.
For years after his release, Harris used the same truck that crashed the gates of the National to haul a lawn mower to Dunn’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Leah each week to cut the grass. He also used it to carry him and others to church services.
With his life having taken such dramatic turns, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting passing for a Southern gentleman: After an Independence Day barbecue on July 4, 2007, Charlie Harris sat down in his easy chair, took a nap in front of the television and never woke up.
Here’s what I wrote after his death:
“His family and friends are confident that when the end came, Charlie Harris didn’t have to crash the Pearly Gates. They opened wide for the man who drove into the depths of his own despair and found hope that he shared with others.”
As his daughter, Charlene Fulcher, told me at the time: “In the end, he made a difference where it mattered: In his own life.”
Thankfully, most visitors this week to The Augusta National won’t make as dramatic an entrance as Charlie Harris. But I doubt they’ll make as graceful an exit, either.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/