In retirement, Chatham's Huntley Harrison brings a strong background in computers and education to three major town activities—Pleasant Bay Community Boating, the cable advisory committee and the airport commission.
Anyone who was a teenager in the '60s may remember their first transistor radio as the height of new technology. For Harrison, a significant memory from that time was taking his first computer course. Then a student at Hobart College, Harrison recalled learning the computer language Fortran on an IBM 1130 computer.
"We would type the cards, load them into the reader and hope for the best," he recalled.
Harrison, who would go on to a career teaching math and computer science in New Jersey and in Chatham, had found his niche. He graduated from Hobart in 1969 with a major in math. "I had very good teachers both at high school and Hobart," he said, "so teaching was something I was drawn to."
A series of interviews at preparatory schools in New Jersey quickly led to a job offer from Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J. teaching math and developing a computer curriculum for the school. The teaching job also came with a draft deferment, a plus at the height of the Vietnam War era.
In more than 29 years at the school, Harrison chaired the computer department and taught math, as well as chairing the school's technology committee. He saw computer use at the school go from a single donated DEC PDP-8S computer with 4K of memory to a completely networked campus with fully equipped computer labs. Because Blair was a boarding school, he also enjoyed mentoring students, serving as a housemaster and wearing a variety of hats including coaching sports like lacrosse and swimming.
In 1987 Harrison and his wife, who lived with their son and daughter on the campus of Blair, bought a vacation house in Chatham. "My wife grew up in Wellesley and had family friends in Chatham," he recalled. "When we saw our house, we knew it was right for us," he added. "We made the decision on the house, which we still live in, quicker than buying a head of lettuce!"
The family moved to Chatham full time in 1999 and Harrison was hired to teach at Chatham High School. "I went to the high school and asked if they had any math teaching jobs," he recalled. "They said no, but added 'do you know anything about computers?'" Harrison served as the computer applications teacher and support person for Chatham and the district until 2013.
Like many active seniors, Harrison's retirement didn't mean the end of his activities. "I'm not a person to do nothing," he said with a smile.
His involvement at Pleasant Bay Community Boating stems from 2005 when he was recruited by original sailing master Greg Kelly, also a fellow teacher, to crew on Kelly's 26-foot sail boat. Harrison was not an experienced sailor but learned on the job. In 2010 the Treasurer position for PBCB opened up and he was asked to step in. He knew his way around a computer, including Quick Books and spreadsheets, and he agreed to serve.
As the organization grew and acquired property, Harrison became more involved, eventually getting hired as property manager in 2014. This year, now that PBCB is officially a day camp, the title and duties of human resources director were added to his job description. The job is technically part-time, however Harrison works from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, five days a week, year-round, with responsibilities on rotating weekends.
"I enjoy the people, enjoy the kids and the staff is wonderful, hardworking and committed," he said. "We're a full-fledged community sailing organization with amazing people," he stressed.
In 2010 Harrison agreed to serve on the Chatham Cable Advisory Committee. As luck would have it he soon found himself the sole member of the group when it came time to sign the 10-year cable renewal agreement with Comcast executed that year.
As the deadline for the next renewal approaches in 2021, Harrison is determined to get more town resident input into that service. Harrison and the other members of the committee want to know what anyone who is served by Comcast in Chatham thinks about their cable provider. Hundreds of responses have been received to date at www.chatham-ma.gov but it's only a start, Harrison hopes.
At stake is the allocation of 4.5 percent of franchise fees that are used to support for Channel 18 (town government), Channel 99 (Cape Cod Media Access channel) and Channel 22 (Monomoy school district).
"We want to hear from people...residents, summer residents, renters...how cable can best serve the town," he stressed. The survey, which consists of only 16 questions, is online, with paper copies available at the Eldredge Public Library, at the senior center and at town offices on Main Street.
Harrison has been a licensed pilot since 1974, but until recently had stopped flying. "In 2012, I started getting re-acclimated so I went to the airport and got to know the people and the activities," he said. When a vacancy on the airport commission came up, Harrison was appointed.
"I think it's important that the airport remain viable," he said, "not only for pilots but for tourism, for local residents who use it to go to work, to come in for the weekend, and for emergency situations. There's an economic benefit that brings in $13 million gross per year," he added.
Harrison has no plans to slow down. "I'm in good physical condition and I keep active refereeing lacrosse and participating in the Cape Cod Ski Club," he added. His philosophy is "moderation in everything," he said. "No excess, stay straight and true."