NANAIMO — One of Nanaimo's most prominent businessmen and philanthropists has passed away suddenly.
Tom Harris died Wednesday night in Roche Harbour on San Juan Island in Washington State, longtime friend Michael O'Connor told NanaimoNewsNOW.
"It's a huge loss to the community, B.C. and indeed the country," O'Connor said. "Just an outstanding citizen who never ever forgot about his duty to give back to the community. He worked hard, he played hard. I was very proud to be his friend."
O'Connor said Harris, who was in his late 60's, travelled to Roche Harbour with his son Tony to offer business advice to a friend. "As typical Tom would do, at the request of his friend to see if he could help him make a business decision."
The San Juan County Sherriff reported a man from B.C. fell off a friend's boat and was found dead early Thursday morning. O'Connor said Harris' passing was very sudden and "it came as a terrible shock to the family."
O'Connor said he met Harris nearly 50 years ago. "He was my best friend and like a brother. It was very devastating to learn of his unexpected death. I'm basically numb about the whole thing. I talked to him a few days ago and everything seemed to be fine."
Harris' cellular company is the largest Telus authorized dealer in Canada, with 50 stores in B.C. and Alberta. A chain of car dealerships from Victoria to Campbell River bear his name.
Harris was named Nanaimo's citizen of the year in 2004 and was involved in countless community groups. His charity work included serving as chair of the Nanaimo District Hospital Foundation and United Way campaign. He sat on the board for the Nanaimo Community Foundation and was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
"He was very successful in his business but he never forgot to give back to the community. There's too many things to mention," O'Connor said.
"He had a wonderful family, five wonderful children and grandchildren. It's a terrible loss to (his wife) Christine and his family, terrible loss to his friends and a terrible loss to Vancouver Island."
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