HEARTFELT tributes have poured in this week to a former King Edward VI School student who was killed in a car accident while working on a gap year in South Africa.
Joe Harris, aged 21, from near Bidford, was just seven weeks into his stay when the accident happened, claiming the life of the talented KES and Warwick University student.
He had been in Waterberg, a district of Limpopo province, since early October carrying out research work into the habitats of aardvarks, as well as assisting on humanitarian work which involved renovating homes for orphans, rebuilding a volleyball pitch and transporting urgent water supplies to local villages.
The accident happened on the afternoon of Tuesday, 21st November, South African time, and was relayed to his devastated parents Roy and Miranda Harris at their home in Church Lench at 8pm on the same evening.
This week Miranda spoke of the couple’s “intense pain and loss” following the death of their only child who was a well-known and hugely popular student, sporting talent and friend to many people in the area.
“Joe equals my life,” Miranda told the Herald. “Everything we did was for Joe. He was so caring and very much treasured by both of us. He helped my personality and character develop because of the interaction with him. He was conscientious and kind to everyone, always happy to help and contribute to family life and a very compassionate and caring person.
“We have been really overwhelmed by the enormous amount of support and the huge volume of letters and calls. It feels like it has come from all over the world, it has been humbling and gratifying.”
Joe attended Stratford Preparatory School, aged three, and then KES where he was to make many lifelong friends. He went on, this year, to graduate from Warwick University with a 2:1 in Classical Civilisation.
As a youngster he was in the junior section at Stratford Rugby Club from the age of ten to 15 and later played rugby for KES. At the age of 15 he participated in his first triathlon and three years later was selected to represent Great Britain in the under-20 World Championships and at university he excelled in the sport of lacrosse. By the time he graduated, Miranda says her son always wanted to be a doctor.
“He wanted to pursue some sort of career in medicine,” she said.
“We were going to discuss it at Christmas when he came home. He may even have wanted to follow in the footsteps of my late brother and Joe’s uncle, Dominic Beer, who was a consultant psychiatrist in intensive care psychiatry. Following Dominic’s death four years ago, aged 56, Joe raised money with his triathlon running for the Dominic Beer Memorial Trust of which he was also a trustee. Joe also worked as a clinical assistant at Warwick Hospital which he really enjoyed and was always very involved and wanted to contribute to the team on the ward.”
At university in 2016 Joe met Tilda Whitby, now aged 22, who was to become his girlfriend. Paying tribute, Tilda said Joe was “simply amazing.”
“He was so charming and so very kind to people, he never wanted anyone to feel left out. He was also such a romantic and had such a boisterous sense of humour,” Tilda said.
The couple spent their last weekend together camping in Scotland at the end of September. She too learnt of Joe’s death on the evening of Tuesday 21st November.
Tilda added: “We used to send texts throughout the day, I think the last one was about 11am but he didn’t reply. His mum called and I said he hadn’t replied to my messages and it was only later on we learnt the tragic news.”
Adding to this week’s tributes was one from his former school, KES, which he attended between 2007 and 2014.
A statement from the school read: “The entire KES community has been shocked and saddened to hear news of the sudden death of Old Edwardian Joe Harris.
“A talented student who grasped every opportunity that came his way, Joe made his mark on King Edward VI School in many areas. His family have made it clear that he was very proud of his association with the school; the school was equally proud of him. Staff are unanimous in their view of him: Joe was great fun to teach — lively, witty, empathetic, enthusiastic and unwaveringly positive. He really was the ‘exemplary student’.
“He was able to marry the significant academic and extra-curricular demands through determination, industry and a strong sense of commitment. For example, Joe took up competitive cycling as a junior and by the time he entered the sixth form had joined a sponsored racing team. He was awarded the school’s highest sporting honour, the Victor Ludorum, in 2014.
“Furthermore, he was a talented musician performing in the school’s award-winning Big Band; he took part in drama productions; completed his gold Duke of Edinburgh Award; volunteered at Welcombe Hills School for over a year; and, he organised his own Sixth Form work experience in a hospital in Germany.
“In 2013, he won the coveted title of ‘The KES Apprentice’. Showing typical modesty when he won the competition, he quietly donated his £100 prize money to the Dominic Beer Memorial Trust, a charity set up following the untimely death of his uncle.
“He was a natural leader who was very popular with his peers and so it was no surprise that he was elected senior prefect in his final year at the school.
“Joe was tireless in fulfilling his numerous responsibilities, which he took very seriously. He was respected and well liked by all and had a particularly positive impact in encouraging younger students. He will be sorely missed by all that knew him.”
Headmaster Bennett Carr added: “I remember a fine young man with natural intelligence and a phenomenal athletic ability. However, above all, I remember the smile which never seemed to leave his face. He was utterly charming, personable and engaging company. Quite simply, Joe was one of our best and I will remember him as such.”
It’s Joe’s smile and personality that school and university friends also recall so fondly in their tributes.
“People would just gravitate towards him,” said friend and former KES sixth form student, George Mitkov, from Studley. “He had this mischievous grin and was just so funny and entertaining to be around. At short notice we recently had a heart-warming get together of 60 of his friends in London. At times it was difficult to hold it together but it showed just how popular he was. I just thought his smile was always going to be around.”
Another KES friend, Piers Bradley, said: “There is no better life to celebrate, Joe brought so many people together. He lived life to the full and was such a warm character.”
Friend, William Lindsay, from Welford, who was at both Stratford Preparatory School and KES with Joe, said: “I’ve known him for as long as I can remember. I would call him my best friend and I’m still shell shocked, it’s very sad.”
Jack Hilton, a friend of Joe’s, added: “Jarris had a unique tenacity when overcoming niche challenges, and the conviction to pick his battles carefully to ensure he could fight them well. Whether running a marathon or levelling up in League of Legends (or whatever the aim of the game is), if Jarris decided it was something he wanted to do, he would get it done.
“No fuss, no bother. But attempts to scout him for 5-a-side football on a Saturday following a Friday night out were promptly thwarted by swift rejection. He didn’t play football. Jarris didn’t want to do everything, but he did everything he wanted.”
University friend, John Milik, added: “If you were down, his smile was so infectious he’d have you laughing in seconds. He became my very closest friend and I will be speaking at the funeral about what a privilege and honour it was to have known him.”
Fellow university colleague, Ollie Lester, who played in the same lacrosse team as Joe, said: “Joe’s version of Bohemian Rhapsody on the team bus was something to behold. He just had such an expressive face, people wanted to be around him.”
Warwick University, where he was student, also joined the tributes this week.
Professor Alison Cooley, head of classics and ancient history, said: “On behalf of the department of classics and ancient history, we wish to send our sincerest condolences to Joe’s family and friends at this difficult time.
“As someone who did not limit himself to the world of classics, Joe was engaged with and demonstrated a real passion for the wider community. News of his passing was met with sadness from across the Warwick community, and we will remember Joe for many years to come.”
Joe will also be sadly missed by his beloved grandmother, Susanna Beer, his step brothers and step sister Simon, Guy and Georgina, and his cousins, Charlie, Josh, David and Esther.
The funeral will take place at 1.30pm on Wednesday, 20th December, at Holy Trinity Church followed by a reception in the Levi Fox Hall at KES.
A memorial day at the school to commemorate Joe’s life is also planned for next summer.