Carrying on the family name, business

In the photo, above, Martha Harris, owner of Harris Lands Inc. is pictured with her best friend, Joanne Johnson, standing behind her. Hanging on the wall behind the two women is a portrait of Irby Harris.

Martha Harris goes to work every day. What makes this seemingly normal activity inspirational is that she is 84 years of age. This is also remarkable because she didn’t begin her employment until she was retirement age.

Martha had been a stay-at-home mother while her husband, Irby, owned his own businesses. Everything was “Norman Rockwell” perfect. Unexpectedly, in 2001, Irby began feeling ill, and within two weeks he was diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome and passed away.

“He was a wonderful husband,” Martha said.

Irby was well-known for owning several Fort Payne businesses. He owned Harris Motor Sales, which was located where the Sonic Drive-In is now. He also owned a car sales business that was located where Stevi B’s currently is. Later Irby started Harris Lands Inc., which was the business Martha took over.

Harris Lands Inc. was responsible for the building of the shopping centers where 21st Century Tanning and Oasis Coffee Bar is located, and the shopping center where Gary’s Warehouse is. Other commercial rental properties are also part of the daily operation of Harris Lands Inc.

Early on in his business ventures, Irby had hired a young woman named Joanne Johnson, right after she graduated from high-school. Johnson stayed with whatever business he owned as the years went by and has been an employee for the Harris’ for 58 years. When Irby passed away, Johnson’s position was bookkeeper at Harris Lands Inc., and she was instrumental in showing Martha what she needed to know to operate the business.

“I don’t know what I would have done without her,” Martha said.

It’s not that Martha Harris had never worked securely before; she had worked at her family’s grocery store and worked at the telephone company in Gadsden, but it had been decades since she drew a paycheck from a job.

The Harris family is well-known in the business community in Fort Payne. Her daughter, Audra Griggs, is V.P. at Harris Lands Inc., and her son, Johnny Eberhart, serves on the Fort Payne City Council. Her nephew is Kevin Burt, an Associate Broker with Southern Properties in Fort Payne. Her grandson, Dane Gilliam, helps her with the daily operation of the family business at Harris Lands Inc., and Dane’s wife, Erinn, is the business manager at The Times-Journal in Fort Payne. Martha’s sister, Doris Locklear, and her son, Heath, are the owners of “The Strand” in Fort Payne.

Martha’s grandson, Devin Gilliam also helps at Harris Lands Inc. Devin just graduated from Fort Payne High School and has taken a position at D.C. Gas. Martha has two granddaughters, Kristy Pridmore, a teacher at Wills Valley Elementary School, and Allison Cowart, who works at Mother’s Day Out.

Martha is proud of her family and appreciates them. She is a firm believer that sitting home will do her in. She finds staying busy is what keeps her going.

Martha’s Motto: “What you put into life is what you get out of it.”

— Marla Ballard’s Who’s Who appears in the Times-Journal week day editions.

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