Debbie Garris was known for her many scarves, creative earrings and smile. A longtime presence in the journalism school, she died unexpectedly Feb. 14. She was 62.
Garris became the administrative assistant to the director of development in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications in 1997. She later became the assistant to Shirley Staples Carter and then to Carol Pardun, the director of the school.
“Debbie Garris was the keeper of the lighthouse here at the school,”Pardun wrote in an online memorial. “If something wasn’t working, she found out how to fix it. She kept us safe.”
Garris was born on July 3, 1951, and grew up in Virginia. She moved to South Carolina in 1968 and attended Radford College in 1969; she finished her degree at USC in 1972.
While in college, she found a passion for photographing horse races and covered many horse shows throughout the Southeast.
Some of her work was published in Steeplechase Times, Careers in the Horse Industry, National Steeplechase Annual and the National Directory for Andalusians.
“Debbie and I would occasionally talk about horses, a diversion we both enjoy that, for those moments, took us away from daily concerns,” wrote Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies. “Some years ago, we rode together on the trails and woods around Camden, vaulting rails and hedges and scattering foxes and hares. At least, that’s Debbie’s story and mine.”
Garris was active at Trenholm Road Methodist Church in Columbia and was also very passionate in her work.
Garris’s funeral was held on Feb. 17 at the Steeplechase Museum in Camden. Rev. William R. Bouknight led the service and spoke about her life and the opportunity she was given in 2000 when Keith Kenney, associate professor of visual communications, donated a kidney to her.
“I have so many hilarious Debbie stories; unfortunately most of them are unprintable. For the last 12 years she was the greatest friend I could ever have asked for,” wrote Nancy Twohey, assistant to the dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies. “I will truly miss hearing her contagious laugh which resonated down the hallway. I hope to pass by her desk soon with a smile, rather than the sadness that I feel today.”
Memorials can be made in Garris’ memory to the Walter M. Crowe Animal Shelter, 460 S. Fair St., Camden or to another charity.