Nanaimo businessman Tom Harris remembered after sudden death


WATCH: Tom Harris, known for his business acumen and philanthropy, died suddenly Thursday. Kendall Hanson reports. 

One of Nanaimo’s most prominent businessmen, Tom Harris, has passed away.

Commercials featuring Tom Harris helped make him a household name on Vancouver Island.

His Nanaimo car dealership led to great business successes but his friends say he will be remembered for so much more.

“He loved his family. He loved his community,” Michael O’Connor, who became friends with Harris as a teen, said.

“And one thing about Tom he never forgot he had a duty to give back.”

Harris, was on a trip to give advice to a friend when he fell off his friend’s boat near Roche Harbour in Washington State. Another boater came across Harris’s body in the waters several hours later.

“I’m somewhat numb,” O’Connor said. “I’m devastated as is my entire family and of course Tom’s family is.”

“I went from expecting to see Tom in 30 minutes to finding out that this tragedy had happened so I was absolutely floored,” Kim Smythe, a friend of Tom Harris for 25 years said.

At Nanaimo’s Laird Wheaton GM dealership, which was formerly owned by Harris, they lowered their flag to half-mast today in his honour.

Harris started as a car sales man for his father until his dad went bankrupt in the 80’s. Harris then leveraged nine mortgages to buy the dealership.

“He turned that around but he never forgot that and he was always willing to help others who were struggling,” O’Connor said.

Now car dealerships, bearing his name, span from Victoria to Campbell River.

And his cellular company is the largest Telus-authorized dealer in Canada with 50 stores in B.C. and Alberta.

“I think that was the magic of the guy in a lot of cases,” Smythe said.

“He just knew how to make things work. He was the glue and he was also the grease.”

But with his business success came a lot of giving back.

“Tom was the chair of this and this and this and this, all at the same time, all doing wonderful community works,” Smythe said.

His friends say he was a great leader and his death leaves a huge hole not only on Vancouver Island but across the province.

Harris leaves behind his wife, five children and numerous grandchildren.

Tom Harris was 67.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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