Commodore S. Harris Jr., longtime Chester policeman, pastor, and community activist, dies at 76
He was Chief Inspector with the Chester Police Department, president of the Chester branch of the NAACP, and an assistant coach for the Chester High School football team.
Commodore S. Harris Jr., 76, of Chester, a versatile 30-year veteran of the Chester Police Department, the former lead pastor at First Faith Baptist Church, and a relentless advocate for the young and disadvantaged in his community, died Monday, Feb. 22, of cardiac arrest at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.
Mr. Harris was born and raised in Chester and spent much of his life working to make things better there for his family, friends, and neighbors.
In addition to serving in several supervisory roles, including chief inspector, with the Chester Police Department, he was president of the Chester branch of the NAACP, an assistant coach for the Chester High School football team, chaplain for the high school boys’ basketball team, and a volunteer for the local Police Athletic League.
“He was a public serviceman by nature,” his family wrote in a tribute.
One of six children, Mr. Harris was born Jan. 5, 1945. He graduated from Chester High School and attended Calvary Baptist Church, where he met the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a Sunday school class.
He joined the Air Force in 1962, was discharged in 1966, and met up with Barbara Mayo, whom he knew from high school, at a dance at what is now called Cheyney University. “And we were dancing ever since,” she said.
They married in 1968, and raised two daughters, Nicole and Tiffany, and goddaughter Rhonda Chandler.
“We were one,” his wife said of their marriage. “He was a perfectionist, so he always did his best.”
Boisterous, opinionated, and devoted to whichever cause or group he was involved with at the time, Mr. Harris told The Inquirer in 1995 that he nearly became a mortician. But Leo Holmes, Chester’s first Black City Council member, persuaded him otherwise.
“I don’t think it was in God’s will that I be a mortician,” Mr. Harris said in 1995. “He put me in where He knew I would be the best I could be, and that was in the police department.”
Mr. Harris joined the Chester Police Department in 1966 and embarked on a remarkable career that featured roles as a patrolman, and in the juvenile, detective, and narcotics divisions. He retired in May 1995 as chief inspector, second in command, and as the most decorated officer in department history.
He helped convict Chester Mayor John Nacrelli for accepting bribes in 1979, broke up several crime rings, and spoke out whenever he perceived injustice, even if it meant confronting local politicians, business leaders, and his own Fraternal Order of Police.ADVERTISEMENT
When Mr. Harris retired from the department, Delores Shelton, then the NAACP’s treasurer in Chester, told The Inquirer: “The city will miss his loud, boisterous voice. When he got excited about something, he could be heard from one end of Chester to the other. He wasn’t ever afraid to say whatever he believed in. He is a man of courage. His legacy is the passion with which he fought for equal rights.”
Mr. Harris also attended Philadelphia College of Bible and Andersonville (Ga.) Baptist Seminary, and spent 18 years as head pastor of First Faith Baptist Church. He was in charge of the Chester NAACP from 1978-84.
Mr. Harris and his wife moved from Chester to Moncks Corner, S.C., in 2000 to be close to family. There, he owned Rev’s Open Pit barbecue restaurant and was a deputy with the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office for 14 years.
Mr. Harris liked to cook and dance. He planned the family vacations, bought all the holiday greeting cards, and liked to watch police shows on TV. He and his wife returned to Chester from South Carolina in 2020.