Minneapolis has lost one of its most colorful residents.
Gilmore Harris was known not only for his sequined jackets and shimmering pants but also for his knack for making strangers feel uplifted and welcomed.
Harris died Oct. 9 at the age of 50.
“He was just a super shiny, great guy,” said Amy Asmussen, general manager of the downtown Ike’s Food & Cocktails. “His presence in the city was amazing and to everybody that he touched, he was just that guy.”
Harris, whom some referred to as “Happy Gilmore” and his family simply called “TK,” knew how to stand out. He liked to don bright glasses and clothes, including his favorite “mermaid” pants, as he hung out in downtown Minneapolis where he lived, or welcomed passengers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where at one time he worked as an ambassador on Concourse G. He also greeted customers at his stints at Ike’s downtown and TGI Fridays in the airport.
Harris was born April 21, 1969, in Grand Bassa County, Liberia. During the 1970s, Harris and his family immigrated to the United States when he was 6 years old. In a 2017 radio feature produced by Nancy Rosenbaum for KFAI’s MinneCulture series, Harris recalled how impressed he was by the Boeing 747 he flew on. His interest in aviation would stick with Harris throughout his life.
Harris’ family settled in Staten Island in New York, and Harris attended Brooklyn Technical High School where he studied aeronautics, said his friend Nate Robinson, who now lives in San Diego. Robinson grew up with Harris and remembered how the two would play basketball and other games at the local community recreation centers when they weren’t getting into mischief. Harris went on to work at the New York Public Library for several years before he moved two decades ago to the Twin Cities.
Harris, shy when he was younger, didn’t start to develop his glitzy wardrobe until he lived for a time in Minneapolis.
“Somehow he found himself,” Robinson said. “He got to the point where he would realize what his role in life was and that was to lift people up.”
Ron Hoffbeck met Harris years ago when Harris was volunteering as a travelers assistant at the airport. Hoffbeck hired Harris as a greeter at TGI Fridays, where Harris worked for about 10 years and helped attract customers as they made their way through Concourse C.
“He was like the mayor of the airport,” said Hoffbeck, who remembered how Harris even got politician Al Franken to stop in the eatery. “I had customers that would come in specifically because he was the door host.”
Harris had worked in several different capacities at the airport over the years, including as an ambassador on Concourse G for dining and retail experience management company OTG, said Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which operates the airport. Harris was a “staple” at Terminal 1, where passengers stopped to take their picture with him, Hogan said.
“Gilmore was someone who stood out in a crowd — in a good way,” Hogan said in an e-mail. “One look at his over-the-top, usually glittery get-ups and you knew meeting him would be an experience.”
Despite his upbeat demeanor, Harris had undergone his own difficulties, including the challenge of obtaining a green card to live in the United States. He was finally able to get the permanent residency document in 2016.
But Harris didn’t let his struggles get him down.
“He was such a great ambassador for our community, unusual as the dickens, but really a terrific person, really a good soul,” said friend Jim Smart.
Harris is survived by his parents, Moses and Myrna Harris; his sister, Yonnie Harris; and his grandmother, Matilda Sisusa. Services have been held.
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495