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Harrington hailed as a visionary
Former commissioner, champion of technical colleges dies at 82
lanier tech 1 harrington jd
James Harrington gets a hug from his granddaughter, Heather Harrington, as he listens to one of the speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new building at Lanier Technical College in May 2008. At the same ceremony, the college named its existing main building for the former commissioner. - photo by Jim Dean

James Harrington, a driving force in the modernization of Georgia’s system of technical colleges, has died following an extended illness. He was 82.

Harrington, who also served as a Forsyth County Commissioner, was among the first members named to the State Board of Technical and Adult Education by then-Gov. Joe Frank Harris.

Harrington fought for many years for funds to establish a second campus for Lanier Technical College in Cumming. The college opened in 1998. In May, the original building was named in honor of Harrington, who died Saturday after an extended illness.

Funeral services were held this morning at Cumming Baptist Church.

Mike Moye, president of Lanier Technical College, said Harrington was a visionary who understood the importance of a trained work force.

"I’m quite pleased we were able to honor him in May at a time when he could see how much he was appreciated," Moye said.

Dennis Stockton, publisher of the newspaper group that includes the Forsyth County News and a member of the Lanier Tech board for seven years, said Harrington was the reason he was on the college’s board of directors.

"James was the type of man that, if he needed your help doing something, you may as well say ‘yes’ because ‘give up’ was not in his vocabulary.

"I’m very proud we got to have a building named for James at Lanier Tech’s Forsyth campus while he was still alive. Too many times these honors come after death. Forsyth County and the city of Cumming have truly lost a leader."

Ken Breeden, the retired commissioner of the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education, said Harrington was "like a brother to me."

Breeden said while Harrington was both a pioneer and leader for technical education in the entire state, he was tenacious in his desire to see Lanier Tech build a campus in Forsyth County.

"He was a founding father of the technical education system in Georgia," Breeden said. "James Harrington is the primary, if not the only reason, we have a technical college campus in Forsyth County. He used to say that Zell Miller would cross the street to avoid him because he was going to work on him about that school."

Mary Helen McGruder, a Forsyth County civic leader and member of the Lanier Tech board, said Harrington wanted a better way of life for citizens of the region.

"He wanted all people to have an opportunity to make a living and support their family," McGruder said. "He saw bringing Lanier Tech to Forsyth as a way to make that happen."

In June 1980, the state acquired 4,700 acres of mountain land along Amicalola Creek in Dawson County from Harrington, who wanted to see the pristine area remain unspoiled.

"The property along Amicalola Creek was a major acquisition for the state of Georgia," said Lonice Barrett, former commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. "James Harrington was deeply interested in seeing that land protected."

A loyal Democrat, Harrington was pushed out of local office in Forsyth by the growth of the Republican party and later, after the election of Gov. Sonny Perdue, was not reappointed to the technical education board.

His last foray into politics was as the Democratic nominee for the U.S. House from the 9th district in 2000. He was defeated by incumbent Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, who had kind words of remembrance for Harrington.

"The 2000 race was probably the one of the friendliest political races anybody ever had," Deal said. "We were friends with each other and had been for a long time. He was a Democrat and felt a Democrat should hold this congressional seat."
He is survived by his wife, Jerry, two sons and a daughter.