Leon P. Harris is the recipient of the 2018 William H. Ruffner Medal, Virginia Tech's highest honor.
The medal recognizes individuals who have performed notable and distinguished service to the university. It is presented at University Commencement each year. This year's event is scheduled for May 11, 2018, at 8:30 a.m. in Lane Stadium.
Born in Floyd County, Virginia, Harris earned his bachelor's in industrial engineering from Virginia Tech in 1964. He is currently the president of Keltech Inc., of Roanoke, Virginia, a company specializing in electronic contract manufacturing.
While attending Virginia Tech, Harris served as a member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets (VTCC) and was a member of the industrial engineering professional society, now known as the Institute of Industrial Engineers Professional Society, and Alpha Pi Mu, the industrial engineering national honor society.
Post-graduation, Harris was commissioned as second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and accepted his first job at General Electric on the engineering and manufacturing management team. Shortly after, Harris was called to serve in active duty at U.S. Army Fort Belvoir and Fort Campbell. In 1966, he was promoted to first lieutenant and then served as a combat engineering officer in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. In 1967, Harris was discharged from active to reserve status and later promoted to captain in 1970.
After three years of military service, Harris rejoined the GE management development program and stayed with the company through 1983. His broad experience with GE instilled the background necessary to move into small business ownership. Harris purchased a local radio station and served as president of Waynesboro Broadcasting Inc. in Waynesboro, Virginia.
Harris developed Tele-Path Instruments in Salem, Virginia, a company that designed and produced digital test equipment for the burgeoning telecommunications industry. Under Harris’ leadership as president, Tele-Path grew into a $30 million business. In 1995, the family sold the business and, soon after, Harris and his wife Beverly purchased Keltech.
Student success and creating opportunities for engineering students has been a focus for Harris. In 1998, he endowed the Leon P. Harris Scholarship Fund, supporting undergraduate students in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. Together with Beverly, the couple endowed the Harris Manufacturing Processes Laboratories, a instructional lab used to teach about 650 industrial and systems engineering, mechanical engineering, and materials science engineering students each year in a variety of manufacturing processes, including machining, welding, and sand casting.
Harris is an actively engaged Hokie. He is a member of the 1872 Society, the Pylon Society, and the Ut Prosim Society. He has helped to propel many university projects with his generosity, including the VTCC building fund and the VTCC Leon Harris ’64 and Beverly Harris scholarship, the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center Smith Mountain Lake 4-H fund, and the Moss Arts Center.
Harris and Beverly served as the Roanoke regional co-chairs for The Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future, which concluded in 2011 and raised more than $1.1 billion.
In 2010, Virginia Tech’s Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering bestowed its highest honor upon Harris, the Marvin Agee Distinguished Alumni Award.
Harris is a member of the board of directors for the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake, Hokies for Higher Education, and Virginia Tech Carilion Health Systems and Technology Steering Committee. He currently serves as the chair for the Taubman Museum of Art and on the board of the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation Board.