MANCHESTER — When Tim Harris was born 28 years ago in Albuquerque, N.M., with Down syndrome, a lot of people told his parents how very, very sorry they were.
"I guess they didn't know then how awesome I would turn out to be," Harris said to the laughter and loud applause of about 500 people attending the 14th annual Bob Baines Blarney Breakfast Wednesday at the Radisson.
Harris is believed to be the only person with Down Syndrome who owns a restaurant in America, according to his parents. He opened Tim's Place in Albuquerque in October 2010, where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served up seven days a week along with free hugs — about 50,000 and counting — from Harris.
"I am 28 years old and I am living the life of my dreams. Oh, yeah!" he said.
Baines said Harris visited a couple of Manchester schools on Tuesday. A student asked him if he had a choice, would he be born with Down Syndrome.
"He said he would choose Down Syndrome because we are really nice people," Baines said in introducing Harris as the event's featured speaker.
The Blarney Breakfast was expected to raise $100,000 for three charities — Special Olympics NH, the American Red Cross and the Shirley Brulotte Fund for the International Institute of N.H.
Harris attended public schools in Albuquerque, participated in the Special Olympics and graduated from Eldorado High School, where he was elected Homecoming King by the highest margin of votes in the school's history. As a teenager, he began working in local restaurants. In 2004, he moved to Roswell, N.M. — "Yes, it is true there are aliens," he said — where he graduated from Eastern New Mexico University with certificates in food service, office skills and restaurant hosting.
His story has been featured in People Magazine, on "The View," on CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN, as well as on National Public Radio.
Tickets for Tuesday's breakfast cost $100 a piece or $1,000 for a table of eight. An auction of specialized items included a guitar signed by Sir Paul McCarthy, which raised $2,000. A Larry Bird autographed Celtic jersey sold for $1,500; a guitar autographed by Carlos Santana had a winning bid of $1,750.
Stan Spirou, head basketball coach at Southern New Hampshire University, provided a bit of levity. He told the breakfast-goers that Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur was a no-show because he got lost in one of Manchester's many potholes.
"The mayor did something the local police couldn't do — make him disappear," he joked.
As for Bob Baines, Spirou said he hadn't heard people applaud that loud for him since he announced he wasn't running for mayor. Baines introduced Spirou as the "Mayor of Spruce Street."
Mayor Ted Gatsas also took a shot at Spirou, who has attended all the breakfasts except for one when he was in Greece. The mayor said the year Spirou didn't attend was the best one of all.
Christopher Duffley, 12, a blind and autistic singer, sang the national anthem and "God Bless America." The New Hampshire Police Association Pipes & Drums performed, and Atlantic Steps closed out the event with a performance of Ireland's oldest dance style, sean-nos.