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Mort Harris, philanthropist and American Axle co-founder, dies at 101

Mort Harris, who co-founded auto industry supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. and earned renown for his philanthropy, has died at 101. Born April 11, 1920, in Detroit, Harris started attending Wayne State University in 1939. During World War II, he was a fighter pilot, flying a B17 bomber on 33 runs over Germany and France, including two on D-Day. After the war, he attended Wayne State University but didn't finish, Harris told The News in 2019.  "I wish I could start all over and get a bachelor's degree in business," he said at the time. Harris eventually turned to industry, joining his uncle's industrial slag company, then buying a metallurgical products firm. After American Axle went public in 1999, he told The News, "I thought, 'OK, now what am I going to do?' I chose philanthropy." He had already frequently contributed to institutions such as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Institute of Arts and Michigan Science Center. His name now graces a recreation and fitness Center at Wayne State. In 2017, he gave $10 million to help Wayne Med-Direct, a Wayne State University program that aids admission to an undergraduate honors college and creates a pipeline to medical school.  Harris also had been among the school's top five donors, having also contributed to social work and literacy programs. In 1970, he established the Edith Harris Memorial Scholarship in the School of Social Work in honor of his first wife, joining the Anthony Wayne Society, the university’s highest donor recognition group, as an inaugural member, officials said. With his second wife, Brigitte, he continued to support a lecture series in the School of Social Work and scholarships for students in the College of Engineering, along with the Damon J. Keith Collection at the Law School and other university initiatives. In 2012, they established the Mort Harris Endowed Scholarship Fund in the School of Medicine and the Mort Harris Office for Adult Literacy Endowment Fund with a $5 million gift. Harris also supported many community organizations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, Focus: HOPE, and Detroit Public Television, Wayne State said. In a statement Friday, WSU President M. Roy Wilson described Harris as a humble giver. "Anyone who has reached his incredibly high levels of success could be justifiably proud, but that wasn’t Mort," Wilson said. "Despite his financial success and his many military and civilian honors, Mort was humble and kind, and he would happily opt for a sandwich over a five-star meal because it was the people he was with that mattered most. "Wayne State was the fortunate beneficiary of Mort’s thoughtful generosity, and his substantial gifts were often in support of students in need."