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Published On: Friday, 14 July 2017

Tom Harris Was A True Legend in Business and For His Generosity

Tom Harris Was A True Legend in Business and For His Generosity
Tragic loss of respected and admired Nanaimoite stuns Vancouver Island business community

- Mark MacDonald writes about business in Nanaimo. Tell him your news by emailing him at mark@businessexaminer.ca

NANAIMO - Like many people, I lost a good friend when Tom Harris passed away on June 29 when he tragically fell off a friend’s boat on San Juan Island.

Tom’s philanthropy and generosity and business success is well documented. In 1983 when Tom mortgaged everything to start Tom Harris Chevrolet after his father, Jack HarrisGeneral Motors dealership slid into receivership when interest rates rose to over 20 per cent.

Today, The Harris Auto Group, which Tom oversaw with sons Mike and Tony, includes Harris Mazda and Harris Kia in Nanaimo, Harris Oceanside Chevrolet GM in Parksville and Harris Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Victoria, and Tom Harris Cellular has over 50 outlets in B.C. and Alberta. Tom was also involved in other successful ventures, including Guy Garages, a new to Vancouver Island concept that offers storage space for RV’s, boats and vehicles in Parksville.

He worked tirelessly for a number of local charitable organizations and was legendary in his fundraising ability for causes he believed in. He donated significantly to an endless number of causes through his companies.

Long-time friend Doug Johnston, who got to know Tom in Nanaimo’s Junior Chamber of Commerce, (aka the JayCees), warmly recalls working with Tom as he got Tom Harris Chevrolet up and running. He shared about how when Doug became President of the United Way in the 1987, he called Tom to ask if he could Chair the campaign. Tom’s response was a quick, yet typical: “Yes, I’ll do it”, and he jumped on board to set an all-time fundraising record for the organization.

Tom was very generous with his time, and I was privileged to have many lengthy chats with him about family, business and politics with him. I had the pleasure of interviewing him on several occasions, and his photo is on my wall in my office.

Tom’s photo was on the very first issue of Business Vancouver Island in June 2004, under the title “Busy On Land And Sea”, as the story chronicled his success in the automotive and cellular telephone industries, as well as serving as a Director of B.C. Ferries. Seated at his desk, Tom’s photo faces me as I write.

The Harris family has been long-time friends with our family, the Savoie clan, as my wife Lise is the youngest and only daughter of Therese and Dr. Fern Savoie, a well known dentist whose sons Dr. Claude and Dr. Andre Savoie succeeded him in practice at the Terminal Dental Clinic.

I’ve expressed our deepest condolences to the Harris family which has meant so much to us for so many years, and we share the great loss of Tom with the many friends and business associates who had the pleasure of knowing him and gleaning from his experience, advice and expertise in so many areas.

People like Tom don’t come along very often, and I was truly blessed to be able to call him a friend. I miss him very much.

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The Canadian Home Builders' Association of BC has certified Ken Connolly of Pheasant Hill Homes Ltd. as a Master Residential Builder. Ken is now the one and only certified by CHBA-BC Master Residential Builder on Vancouver Island.

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Ian Anderson, General Manager of Mid Island Coop, tells us the company is expanding their tent pegs, so to speak. Construction is underway in a new Liquor Store in the Parksville area, next to their gas station and convenience store on Highway 4 in Errington. The 5,000 square foot building is expected to be ready to open in the fall. This is their second liquor store, as Mid Island Coop recently purchased the Sayward Junction gas and liquor store in Sayward, north of Campbell River.

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Trevor Sawkins of ColdStar Solutions Inc., which has offices in Victoria and Cassidy, has been appointed Chair of the B.C. Trucking Association for this year. Sawkins is the only Vancouver Island member of the Board of Directors, which was elected at the association’s Annual General Meeting and Management Conference in Kelowna in June.

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Former Business Examiner salesman Dan Stelck is now selling for Nobel Biocare on Vancouver Island.

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Smythe LLP (Smythe) is pleased to welcome Daniel Lai, CPA, CA to the partnership effective July 1.

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After 33 years, Orthodontist Dr. John Pappel has sold his practice at 1500 Waddington Road to Shoreline Orthodontics, which has offices in Courtenay and Campbell River, with another location opening in September in Langford. John will stay on at the practice over the next few months to assist in the transition.

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Raj Banga has sold the Castaway Motel to investors from the lower mainland.

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Island Cannabis is opening at Beban Plaza, at the corner of Northfield and Bowen Roads.

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Posh Nails is now open in Longwood Station.

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Plans are in the works for a new vehicle dealership on the former Long Lake Nursery site on the Island Highway near Rutherford Road.

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Lindy Devine Counselling has moved from 427H Fitzwilliam to 308-321 Wallace Street.

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Once Upon a Child is opening at 6461 Metral Drive beside Cobbs Bread. It is a gently used brand name clothing, shoes, toys and accessories, and is locally owned.