When Rob Harris hired me in 2007 to work on CMG, his Web-based motorcycle magazine, we lived at opposite ends of the country, and, as I recall, it wasn’t until Honda Canada staged a press event in conjunction with a road race weekend at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, that we actually got to spend some face-to-face time together. That was three years later.
I liked the guy a lot even before I met him. There was a sweetness to his personality, a kind of honest, non-cynical warmth that you could hear in his tone of his voice and, I realized when we finally did meet, you could see in his eyes. It was as if Rob felt certain that everyone he met had a good side, and all you had to do was give the person an opportunity to show it. Even when expressing disappointment in someone—when I screwed up a news story for CMG, for instance—you could feel and hear the warmth of his intentions; it was like being told by Gregory Peck and Atticus Finch that you could have done better.
That’s kind of apt, really, because Peck was tall, six-three, and Rob was about six-four; they were both indelibly handsome, and I’m guessing that Peck had a kind of magnetism, because Rob sure as hell did. But what really, to my mind, makes Rob a kind of doppelgänger for Peck’s Atticus Finch was his firmness of belief. At that Honda event, dinner was served to about 50 motojournalists and industry folks, and it was boiled lobster. For everyone, except Rob, who insisted on having pasta instead. When I asked him why, he told me that he didn’t like the industrial farming system, the way food animals are treated. He changed his diet because he didn’t like the way animals were treated, and he didn’t do it half-heartedly. He committed to it.
As I got to know Rob, I got the feeling that he lived that kind of commitment through and through, that when he took on something, he didn’t do it in a half-assed way. He started a little motorcycle pamphlet, (Ontario Moto Guide, I think was) about 20 years ago, kept at it, and built it into a dominant and entertaining force in Canadian motorcycle journalism. Never mind that we (Cycle Canada) and he (CMG) were competitors; you could do a lot worse in this world than competing with a guy like that.
After that Honda event, we spent a couple of days of riding to his home in Sackville, New Brunswick. His wife Courtney was at work, but a baby sitter was there and I was able to meet his daughter. Rob was tired, hungry, and a little out of sorts by the time we got there, but as he picked up his little girl and spoke to her, I could see in his eyes and I could hear in his voice that he was all right again, right there. In that moment I knew just about everything important there was to know about Rob Harris, and I think anyone who knew him might have experienced that kind of illumination, and become better for it.
Rob Harris died in a collision on May 14 while riding on a dirt road. Those of you who have cared to find out what exactly happened will know more than I do at this point, only two days after. He was a skilled and careful rider, and yet he’s gone. It must be tempting for some to think that motorcycling is just too dangerous, that there is no real point in accepting those risks. But the reality is that most or all of us will keep on riding, and the best that we may be able to hope for is that we will do it with more care, and that we will live our lives with a greater awareness of the possibilities that exist before each of us.