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Irving Harris, philanthropist, early advocate of Head Start

CHICAGO -- Irving B. Harris, a businessman who donated millions of dollars to programs that support children's welfare and the arts, died Saturday at his home in Chicago. He was 94.

Mr. Harris, who had served as the former chairman of the Pittway Corp., which has since been acquired by Honeywell International, had been in declining health for the past year, said a University of Chicago spokesman.

Mr. Harris and his wife, Joan, have long been major donors to local arts organizations. They also provided the funds that launched the Center for the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, which bears his name.

''For decades Irving Harris has been a visionary who influenced social policy not only by effective advocacy, but also by his own actions that helped transform good ideas into reality," said Robert Michael, a former dean of the Harris School.

Mr. Harris was an advocate for the creation of Project Head Start in the 1960s and developed The Ounce of Prevention Fund, a public-private partnership that creates programs to prevent teen pregnancy, child abuse, and neglect.

He also helped create and fund the Yale Child Studies Center at Yale University, from which he graduated in 1931.

''I believe that God's gift of brain potential is not discriminatory," Mr. Harris wrote in his 1996 book ''Children in Jeopardy: Can We Break the Cycle of Poverty?" ''Kindergarten is much too late to worry if a child is ready to learn. We must begin in the first days and weeks and months of life to get children ready to learn."

Born in St. Paul, Minn., Mr. Harris moved to Chicago in 1948, after selling a company he and his brother founded.

Until two years ago, he was chairman of the Liberty Acorn mutual fund.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Harris leaves two daughters, Roxanne Harris Frank and Virginia Harris Polsky; and a son, William.

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