Charlotte man's legacy lives on through foundation

Charlotte man's legacy lives on through foundation

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by MICHELLE BOUDIN / NewsChannel 36

Bio | Email | Follow: @MichelleBoudin

WCNC.com

Posted on February 16, 2011 at 12:10 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 16 at 9:54 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Few people in Charlotte know that the city is home to the second largest distributor of Coca-Cola in the world. The company’s CEO, Frank Harrison, shies away from attention.

While Frank strayed from the spotlight his son, James Harrison, blazed a trail of humanity across the world, until he died suddenly while volunteering in Africa.

Before James died, the father and son created a foundation to help the people of Sudan called “With Open Eyes.”

Frank Harrison sat down with NewsChannel 36 to talk about his son’s legacy.

“James loved to hunt. That’s actually a turkey,” Frank said, pointing out a photograph.

James was fearless.

“He loved danger,” Frank said. “He was a risk taker to some degree.”

An accomplished fisherman, pilot and hunter, as well as the son of a wealthy CEO and heir to the family business, James could have led a very different life than the one he chose. 

“James, since he was a young boy, had this incredible heart for people,” his father explained.

The 27-year-old spent much of the last five years working in Sudan.

“There wasn’t one face in that refugee camp that you couldn’t look into the eyes, they weren’t affected by the government in a serious, serious way,” James once said.

He made it his life’s work to help the people of that country, embroiled for years in a civil war that left them without the basics -- water, medical care and access to education.

“That’s one of those things about James that I think was really different,” his sister Carter said. “A lot of people go on service trips, mission trips. They’ll go for a couple of weeks and come back, but James, really he wanted to be there and live amongst the people.”

Carter says it was his true passion.

“I think he just left an incredible mark on the people there,” she said.

The charismatic daredevil was raised with a powerful faith and got involved after a personal phone call from Franklin Graham, the Reverend Billy Graham’s son.

“He knew James and knew James was full speed ahead, a lot of energy, very aggressive, somewhat fearless and had a real heart for people and serving others in great need,” said Frank. “I’d heard about Sudan. I knew there was some kind of great difficulty, some kind of war.

James recruited his father to help.

“As he and I, we both began to understand what was truly happening over there, you knew you had to do something to help these people.

That’s when the pair founded “With Open Eyes.”

“I realized it wasn’t going to get off my heart and my conscience until I decided to go do something about it,” James said in a documentary. He and his father made the documentary in hopes of raising awareness to the situation. Their foundation also started raising money to help pastors move around because there aren’t any roads in Sudan.

“They go from village to village and serve those in need, they let us know the needs as they go from village to village,” Frank explained.”Mobile messengers we call them.

James was working on that last October in Nairobi when he suddenly died of pneumonia.

“Sometimes it just doesn’t feel real, evening saying it,” Carter said. “I think it just hits you in different waves.”

The family says their faith is all that is getting them through.

“Can’t imagine, like my dad was saying if I didn't have my faith, if I didn't believe that James was in a better place it would be near impossible,” Carter said. “It’s been incredibly hard you know, we loved him, he was my big brother.”

“It’s just been a couple of months, you don’t believe it’s true totally,” Frank said. “Now James – you’re not really gone. It’s all about serving those in great need and sharing Christ. I think that’s his legacy.”

With Open Eyes raised a million dollars last year and will have 100 mobile messengers up and running by the end of the year.

“I think he left a legacy in Africa and then obviously just on my family, the love that he showed people he showed us.

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