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Harry and Sue Harrington's loved ones gather in front of the building newly renamed in their honor. Pictured are Reid Harrington, Hub Brown, Chris Edge, Tammy Harrington, Drennan Harrington, Patti Harrington Brown and Beverly Edge. (Contributed photo)
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The late Harry and Sue Harrington pioneered the LaFayette Recreation Department, nurturing it into what it is today. (Contributed photo)

Last month, the city of LaFayette officially said 'thank you' to the late couple that shaped its recreational department by renaming its main recreational building after them.

The building, located at Municipal Park, will now be called the Harry and Sue Harrington Center, paying homage to the two pioneers who nurtured the LaFayette Recreation Department into what it is today.

"It's an honor, and I'm very proud," said Reid Harrington, Harry and Sue's son. "I wish Mom and Dad were here to enjoy the recognition."

A gesture of gratitude is one that residents have been discussing for years, as many of them have memories of being taught to swim, cook, sew, hit a baseball, shoot a basketball and throw a football by the Harringtons.

"I'd say probably more than half the adults age 40 and up were taught how to swim by Miss Sue," said Jason Shattuck, LaFayette's current director of Parks and Recreation, who also had the privilege of taking lessons from Sue Harrington.

Harry and Sue Harrington began their work in 1964, when they were hired by the city to serve as the first leaders of the newly formed LaFayette Recreation Department. Having both worked at the Jewish Educational Alliance activity center in Savannah, Ga., before moving to LaFayette that year, Harry was appointed the first director of recreation and Sue was made the first program director.

Through their joint efforts, the city boasted new centers at Municipal Park, Lowell Greene Park and the Max Stoker Community Center by 1969, and would later bring in over 60 acres of high-density recreation areas.

Using his skills as an amateur artist, Harry drew the proposed layout for the city's recreational buildings and park by hand and presented it to the city. He also relied heavily on organizational skills learned during his time in the military to oversee a plethora of tournaments for sports such as baseball, basketball and football. He even trained lifeguards and coached the competitive Bluefin Swim Team.

"He was pretty hard-nosed, pretty stern," laughed Reid, who was one of the 50 kids on the team back when it was active. "He'd make sure you were there at 8 o'clock in the morning during the summer doing your warm-up laps."

Though Sue Harrington hosted ceramics programs and day camps, Reid said she will be remembered most for her swimming lessons, which she taught for 55 years. During that time, she had special equipment installed at the pool to ensure that locals with physical disabilities were able to spend time in the water, as well.

"It was just a great honor for her to work with those that were handicapped," Reid said.

That mindset of inclusion was evident in everything the couple did, Reid added, and they overlooked race, gender and socioeconomic status to ensure everyone had a chance to participate in the programs they developed.

"They didn't play favorites," he said. "It didn't matter which side of town you were from or what your status was socially. They brought everybody in in one big family."

Throughout the years, the Harringtons' influence stretched far beyond just LaFayette, added Reid.

By the late 1960s, the husband-wife team was receiving recognition and inquiries from state dignitaries like Gov. Lester Garfield Maddox and even Gov. Jimmy Carter, who went on to become the 39th president of the United States. Today, Reid still has two binders filled with about 100 letters sent to his parents from senators, congressmen, mayors and other recreational directors throughout Georgia.

"[Many were] acknowledgements of this rec center in small-town LaFayette being one of the best in the state, and that these other towns wanted to use our rec center as a model to build their rec center," Reid said.

Even today, 26 years after his father passed and six years after his mother followed, Reid still hears stories from teachers, coaches and many other locals about the influence his parents had on their lives.

"I know in my heart that they're loved and they have what my mother would always call their 'recreation family,'" he said.

Email Myron Madden at mmadden@timesfreepress.com

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