LTG William ‘Bill’ Harrison passes

JBLM and Lakewood mourn former I Corps Commander

By J.M. Simpson on February 22, 2024

When asked to describe an act that defined Lakewood Mayor (Emeritus) and retired Army Lt. Gen. William H. Harrison, Council Member Mike Brandstetter argued there were "lots of stand-out actions."

He explained that at a council meeting years ago a resident commented that he was not an important individual. "Mayor Harrison admonished him, saying that ‘There are no unimportant citizens in Lakewood. Do not think of or refer to yourself as such.' I came to know that he meant those words. He valued everyone, and his selfless service extended to doing his best for everyone."

Harrison passed away last Sunday. He was 90 years old.

During his 37-year Army career, he commanded companies in the 101st Airborne Division and the 7th Infantry Division, a battalion in the 3rd Armored Division and a brigade in the 2nd Armored Division. He was the commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division from 1985 to 1987, and then I Corps commander of then Fort Lewis from 1987 until 1989. After retiring from the Army, Harrison and his family settled in Lakewood in 1993.

"He was proud to be a soldier, and he promoted pride among his soldiers," said retired Army Maj. Gen. James Collins, who served at then Fort Lewis from 2002 thru 2005 as I Corps deputy commanding general and chief of staff. "He was tireless in his pursuit of service to military members of our community and their families."

When former Lakewood Deputy Mayor Helen McGovern-Pilant first heard of General Harrison in 1994, she pictured someone who was "a stern, forceful leader." Acknowledging that he could be stern, McGovern-Pilant also noted that he was "kind, direct, insightful and a team player." 

She also pointed out that Harrison's leadership was shared with a strong, independent woman. "When I met him, I had the pleasure of becoming great friends with his lovely, feisty wife Jo. They were an amazing team," she recalled.

"Then he co-chaired the successful incorporation (the fourth) effort with a feisty woman, Andie Gernon," McGovern-Pilant added. "When he was elected to the City Council in 1995 and became the city's first mayor, his Deputy Mayor, Claudie Thomas, was a feisty woman. And when his capacity to be independent became challenged, he relied on his caregiver who became family, Karen George, another feisty woman. Notice a theme?"

Alice Bush was one who did.

"In my heart he was the pillar of Lakewood - an honorable and selfless man who put others before himself and cared deeply to make Lakewood a safe and vibrant community," explained Bush, Lakewood's First City Clerk. "He did this by bringing people together, engaging them, and paved the path for building strong partnerships. Mr. Mayor - that's what I called  him - touched the hearts of everyone he knew with compassion."

Serving as the city's first mayor from 1995 through 2003, he completed his service on the City Council in 2005. During his tenure, he was credited with a number of accomplishments including opening the first Municipal Court in the city, the formation of the Lakewood Police Department, and the creation of several citizen advisory boards.

"He eschewed lucrative positions normally available to retired general officers of his ability ... to become a community leader," added former Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson. "The quality of life in Lakewood was dramatically improved by his efforts."

Officials at JBLM honored Harrison in a number of ways including inducting him into the JBLM Hall of Fame, and naming the new headquarters of the 7th Infantry Division, Harrison Hall. In Lakewood, the Clover Park School District honored him with the naming of Lieutenant General William H. Harrison Preparatory School.

"He will be greatly missed, though his spirit and memory will continue with those whom he mentored and inspired," said John Caulfield, Lakewood's City Manager.