Great Women of Texas 2019 Dedicated Service Award: Patricia “Pat” Draper Harrison

Patricia Harrison

Great Woman of Texas Dedicated Service Award

Patricia “Pat” Draper Harrison

Senior Vice President, Education (retired)

Botanical Research Institute of Texas 

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Former middle school science teacher Patricia Harrison joined the staff of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) in 1995 to help develop an education outreach program for the newly established organization.

Fort Worth-based BRIT is a nonprofit international research and education organization that collects and safeguards plant specimens, studies and protects living plants, and teaches about the importance of conservation and biodiversity to the world

After two years as Education Coordinator, she was named Head of Education (1997) to oversee all education and outreach efforts. In 1999, she was promoted to Vice President and Director of Education.

In 2016, she was again promoted to Senior Vice President and Director of Education. Already named a Great Woman of Texas in 2003, she is receiving the Dedicated Service Award after retiring this year.

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“Pat is a fierce advocate for children and education programs that motivate them to engage with nature,” said Chris Smith, director of marketing and communications at BRIT. “She understands the professional expertise and team efforts needed to make this happen – from educational program design and implementation to fundraising and grant reporting, and more. Few have the multidimensional skills necessary to accomplish this. Pat has them all. “

Harrison’s efforts are focused on educating the public about the importance of biodiversity and the role of plants in the health and well-being of all living things. As senior vice president and director of education, she has assisted with major projects to support BRIT and its message.

“My career at BRIT has focused on nature education, specifically plants and our natural environment,” said Harrison. “Plants have always been a passion, and I’ve come to realize the power of nature to improve lives.”

In addition to her efforts building the first BRIT educational programs and building them into leading environmental and STEM educational programs, Harrison helped lead the education and volunteer collaboration between BRIT and the Fort Worth Botanic Garden almost two years ago, said Smith.

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“Based on that successful collaboration, joint membership was launched in March of this year. This kind of success is part of why BRIT has entered into negotiations with the City of Fort Worth to be the nonprofit entity managing the botanic gardens. We owe her much,” Smith said.

Along the way, Harrison has made an impact outside of BRIT as well, delivering the message of the institution around the world.

She has presented a paper on  “Ethnobotany: Promotion and Applications” at symposia at Nauresuan University in Thailand and at the University of Montpelier, France, and is the author on a chapter in a book, Innovative Strategies for Teaching in the Plant Sciences.

Harrison’s work will be felt for many years to come.

Even after she retires, it’s won’t be any secret where you can find Harrison.

“Research has proven that people who spend time in nature are happier, healthier and smarter,” Harrison said. “I know that is true for me, so you’ll find me outdoors every chance I get, whether its walking or gardening or just hanging out with the greatest kids and grandkids on the planet.”

–   Robert Francis

What advice would you give young women rising to a position of prominence?

One of my favorite quotes is, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit,” by Nelson Henderson. This reminds me of the value of investing our time and energy into something greater than ourselves.

In this age of immediate gratification, we should not always expect to see instant results from our efforts.

The time we invest in teaching our children or going the extra mile at work for the sake of the greater good may not seem like the best use of our time in the moment. What you do today may not gain you recognition, but it could make the world a better place for those who come after you.

Who is the most significant role model and/or mentor in your life?

The most significant role model in my life was my mother who came from a long line of strong Texas women with a “can-do” attitude and a servant spirit. She was selfless in her service to others which shaped my tendencies and aspirations to become a servant leader. My philosophy as a leader has been to surround myself with the most competent individuals, then do whatever I can do to help them find their own success.  

What book, movie, TV series or play influenced you growing up?  Why?

The Bibleshaped my character and is my daily source of inspiration and guidance. But the children’s book Heidi that I read as a young girl sparked my interest in seeing places like Switzerland and learning about cultures different from my native East Texas.

This “wanderlust” has led me to travel and explore nearly all 50 states and many countries around the world. My work at BRIT seeded an interest in ethnobotany, or how people use plants in different cultures in the world.

I’ve yet to make it to Switzerland, but an alpine hike in the Alps is still on my list.  


What would you like for us to know that we might not know to ask?

I have an unusual regard for old, majestic oak trees. (Jeremiah 17:8)

Maybe it’s because I have deep American roots. My family lineage in Texas goes back to the Alamo where an ancestor died in the fight for Texas independence. Another side of my family heritage can be traced back to the American Revolution. 


Editor’s Note:

Jeremiah 17:8

New International Version

They will be like a tree planted by the water

    that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;

    its leaves are always green.

It has no worries in a year of drought

    and never fails to bear fruit.