When she left her cabinet position, she tried her hand at running for mayor of Washington but lost against Marion Barry. Harris returned to teaching as a professor at George Washington University Law School until she died of breast cancer at age 60.
In October 1987, Howard University established the Patricia Roberts Harris Public Affairs Program, to encourage students to work in the public affairs sector. Her papers, research, artifacts and other memorabilia were donated to the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center in 1988.
On January 27, 2000, Howard University hosted a tribute to Patricia Roberts Harris by unveiling a U.S. postage stamp in her honor. She was the seventh woman to be recognized with a U.S. postage stamp.