On college football Saturdays going back decades now, Gordon “Stumpy” Harris knew how to make an entrance.
Harris wore his passion for the Florida Gators on his sleeve — and anywhere else he could showcase his allegiance to his alma mater.
Harris’ April 1 death at age 82 was a dark day for the Orange and Blue and the state’s flagship university.
“The ultimate Gator fan,” athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “UF obviously meant a great deal to him, and he incorporated the Gators into seemingly every part of his life.”
Harris graduated from UF’s College of Law in 1965, ranked third in his class. He would make his name and his fortune as a prominent Orlando attorney, founding several law firms and developing expertise in eminent domain.
Florida superfan and diehard donor served as Harris’ second career.
Gators-centric outfits and vehicles were his trademark. Harris donned shirts, ties, cufflinks, pants and shoes featuring the iconic Gator head logo.
A full-size alligator head jutted out of the rear end of both Harris’ 1932 Ford 3-Window Coupe and 1952 MG TD Midget, vehicles he auctioned for more than $50,000 last fall to donate to the Gators. He owned an RV with a matching Gator trailer, along with a full-size van and various orange-and-blue emblazoned bicycles and scooters.
The centerpiece of the fleet was a Ford F-350 he dubbed the “Mother Ship” and played the school’s fight song when Harris blew the horn. Painted orange and blue, with matching leather seats, a football-helmet hood ornament and a tailgate reading, “Tailgator Litagator,” the vehicle was Harris’ pride and joy.
“When I get it in, I feel good,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 2011.
Harris’ generosity also gave him infinite pleasure, along with access to the best views in the house and the ear of coaches and administrators.
“He was always so kind to (wife) Megan and I when we were here as an assistant, and was excited and supportive when we returned as the head coach,” Dan Mullen said. “He loved the Gators through and through. He will be sadly missed.”
Harris’ absence during the 2021 season will be glaring.
A football season-ticket holder since 1957, Harris had a luxury suite at the Swamp larger than the UF president’s suite. All told, Harris held 48 season tickets inside the stadium.
Harris made more than $3 million in lifetime contributions to Gators’ athletics, earning a title, “Legacy Director,” held by just about a dozen boosters.
Harris’ magnanimity extended to the university he attended after graduating from Jacksonville’s Robert E. Lee High School in 1956.
“He might have been known as Stumpy, but he stood tall when it came to being a Gator alum,” longtime Bull Gator booster Robert Merkel said. “He was a big mover and shaker. If you wanted something done, Stumpy was the go-to guy as far as the alums were concerned.
“He was an alum alums looked up to.”
Harris carried his nickname with pride.
During his freshman football season in high school, a coach observed Harris — then a diminutive defensive tackle — was hard to move in the trenches, similar to uprooting a tree stump.
Touted “Stumpy” by teammates, the moniker stuck with him for nearly 70 years, more than 60 of them involved with UF.
Harris eventually served as president of University of Florida National Alumni Association in the early 1980s when the football program was just emerging from NCAA probation. He also served as president of Gator Boosters.
“I don’t think he got the credit he deserves to have for all he did for the university in the early days,” longtime Bull Gator Danny Ponce said.
Ponce, a prominent attorney himself in Miami, succeeded Harris as Alumni Association president in 1982. The two men, Florida football fans and fellow lawyers shared a bond dating to the 1970s.
“I considered him a dear, dear friend,” Ponce said.
During the 100th anniversary of Florida football in 2006, Ponce and Harris spearheaded the “Gator Gala” that raised more than $6 million for the athletic department.
Ponce said Harris had a rare gift for fundraising. When it came to supporting UF and the Gators, Harris was one of a kind, too, supporting them with unsurpassed pride and enthusiasm.
“He was just this larger-than-life Gator,” Ponce said. “There’s never been anybody like him. It’s a big loss for the Gator Nation.”