A Lifetime of Spiritual Evolution
Honoring our legendary founding editor, T George Harris
T George Harris was born a Baptist on a small and rocky Kentucky tobacco farm in 1924, a time when most Americans believed the earth was 7,000 years old and heaven was a place you could point to—straight up. The self-described “runt of the litter,” T George suffered rickets and pneumonia and polio, nearing death so often that his mother swore her son would do something truly special with his life if God kept him alive. As T George grew stronger, he worked the fields behind a mule-powered plow, but he was aware of his mother’s pact and planned to become a preacher. Those plans shifted in high school, when T George realized that while preachers had answers, what motivated him was asking questions. He decided to become a reporter.
During the lead-up to World War II, T George was a conscientious objector, but he had a conversion experience while watching the movie Sergeant York and enlisted in the Army. A holy warrior armed with the mantra “Not my will but thine,” he volunteered as a scout for the heavy artillery and flew a record 116 missions over enemy lines in cloth-winged Piper Cubs. Along the way he earned a Bronze Star, an Air Medal with cluster, and a battlefield commission at Bastogne, Belgium. T George was also the first American to reach the Holocaust concentration camp at Ohrdruf, Germany. He witnessed the worst that humans can do to each other and left the war determined to discover the best.
T George used the GI Bill to study sociology at Yale, graduating in 1949, the year that Henry Luce decided to hire five Time reporters straight out of college. As a reporter for Time, T George remained a holy warrior, putting himself on the front lines of the civil rights movement (thanks!). Meanwhile, scientists were unraveling the twisted strands of DNA, and men rocketed into the heavens to witness firsthand that God wasn’t there. As America’s search for meaning turned inward, T George’s reporting helped make national figures of researchers like Abraham Maslow, a founder of the human potential movement.
In 1967, T George became editor in chief of Psychology Today, and for the next decade the magazine gave voice to the age of psychology. Then he lost his first wife to breast cancer, and his own journalist’s diet of cigarettes and bourbon began to take its toll. He looked to the body for America’s next big revolution and founded American Health magazine in 1982. Both Psychology Today and American Health won awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors, the equivalent of best-picture Oscars. No other editor had won for two different magazines. In the late ’70s, T George was also the first male editor at Ms.
In 1992, T George became editor in chief of Harvard Business Review. The collapse of communism meant that we could look at capitalism with a new lens, he said with his usual exuberance. But Harvard wasn’t ready for T George. Then, in 1996, Daniel Matthews, the rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street, had the insight that progressives of all religions have more in common with each other than with fundamentalists of their own faith—and he called on T George to create a magazine to explore the spiritual experience. Meanwhile, scientists had discovered that neurons, like muscles, are shaped with use, and that the world-champion brain shapers were Tibetan monks. T George realized that the stage was set for honest conversations among believers, seekers, scientists, and physicians. Spirituality & Health was born.
T George launched the preview issue of S&H in 1996 and then dropped out to become our closest adviser. He then helped launch the website Beliefnet as well as medical products for Procter & Gamble. He died at his home in La Jolla, California, on October 23, 2013, leaving behind his loving wife, Jeannie, four children (Amos, Anne, Crane, and Gardiner), six grandchildren, and countless friends and admirers.
Stephen Kiesling had the honor of working with T George at American Health, Harvard Business Review, and Spirituality & Health.