Otis Harrison is a fixture at every Red Cross blood drive at The Thomson Depot.
A few days before each drive, he dutifully puts out more than a dozen signs around the city advertising the event.
Because he has anemia, he takes iron supplements.
The morning of each blood drive, he drives around town picking up the signs to store them away until next time.
Then, as long as the iron has done its job, he gives blood himself.
“(He) is so proud of himself if he is successful at giving,” said Harrison’s wife, Dorothy. “It’s almost to me like he’s with Phil when he does that.”
Every blood drive the Red Cross holds at The Depot is named the Phil Harrison Memorial Blood Drive, in honor of the Harrisons’ son.
“He was sort of in charge of everything when he died. That’s why they named it for him,” Otis said.
Phil Harrison was a certified public accountant in Thomson. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was 25. The cancer went into remission, but it returned in his back. He fought it for 15 years and had finally been declared cancer-free.
But during the fight, in January 1984, Phil returned from a hunting trip in south Georgia very weak and pale. His oncologist told him he had no blood or platelets, Dorothy said.
“I was frantic. I could not see how he could possibly pick up his big feet and move them,” she said. “I don’t know how many pints of blood or platelets he got. I just know I saw him come alive again.”
Phil recognized that someone else’s donation of blood helped him get better, and he dedicated the remainder of his life to motivating people to donate blood to help others such as himself.
He began organizing blood drives in Thomson for the Red Cross, and he shared his story whenever he got the chance.
“There was such a change in him, after his experience with cancer,” Dorothy said. “He seemed to learn to live in the present. He didn’t look back or grieve over what he had been through.”
Phil beat cancer, but in 1990 he died of a heart attack that no one had predicted. He was 40 years old.
Since Phil’s death, Otis and his other son, Blake, have taken up the cause begun by Phil.
It’s their way of honoring Phil’s memory.
“Some blood helped save his life,” Otis said. “That’s why I’m doing it.”
The next blood drive will be held April 17 at The Depot.