Longtime Cardinals employee Adele Harris passed away Friday at the age of 65.
Adele Harris, the Arizona Cardinals' community relations director who retired in 2001 after 26 seasons with the franchise, passed away Friday morning at Mercy Hospital in Gilbert. She was 65.
Harris was the first female minority executive in the NFL.
"Adele was an integral part of the Cardinals organization for more than a quarter of a century and was so much more than simply an employee," Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill said. "She truly treated everyone – particularly our players – like they were her own family and if ever the term 'people person' fit someone, it was Adele.
"We are all saddened by the news of her passing but know that her memory lives on through the countless individuals whose lives she has enriched."
Originally from Chicago, Ill., Harris was raised in St. Louis and first worked as a secretary for the St. Louis Football Cardinals from 1971-74. She left the club to pursue a degree in business management, and returned to the team in 1978 as a publicity assistant, becoming the first minority woman to hold a front-office position in the NFL.
By 1980, Harris became the team's director of community relations, and was instrumental in laying much of the groundwork for the team's civic efforts when the team relocated to Arizona in 1988.
One of the crowning achievements of her career was her work with the Arizona NFL Youth Education Town (YET) center, opened in South Phoenix in 1998. There are now 15 YET centers in 12 cities: Atlanta, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Honolulu, Houston (2), Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix, San Diego (2) and Tampa (2). The centers operate as an educational and recreational facility the NFL has established in Super Bowl host cities to positively enhance opportunities for at-risk kids.
Harris' selfless work with the Arizona YET center culminated with the facility's playing field being named in her honor.