Prominent Nanaimo businessman Tom Harris died Thursday in Roche Harbor in Washington State. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Businessman Tom Harris dies during trip to U.S.

Nanaimo businessman Tom Harris died unexpectedly Thursday in Roche Harbor in Washington State

Prominent Nanaimo businessman Tom Harris has died.

Harris died unexpectedly in the early morning hours Thursday while visiting Roche Harbor in Washington state.

Harris was dealer principal at Harris Mazda, president of Harris Kia, president of Tom Harris Cellular Ltd. and a partner in other businesses.

“His legacy will be that Harris name that sits on so many businesses in town, and I think that so many people who have worked for Tom in his businesses have great respect for him as an employer and a manager and a friend…” said Kim Smythe, chief executive officer of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of us in business would love to emulate him and be as honoured in the community as he is. I don’t want to put him on a pedestal, because he just liked to be the regular guy, but so many of us looked up to him in so many different ways.”

Nanaimo’s Citizen of the Year in 2004, Harris was appointed to the Order of St. John in 2005 and also received the Rotary Centennial Service Award for Professional Excellence. In 2012, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal recognizing his service to the community and to Canada.

Harris chaired or sat on numerous boards including the Nanaimo District Hospital Foundation, Nanaimo Community Foundation, United Way, Vancouver Island University Foundation and others.

“He touched in so many different areas,” Smythe said. “There’s no way we’re going to get by this without somebody saying OK, we’re going to form a committee and we’re going to do something in his honour. I think that will come up in the weeks to come, but today, it’s just a sense of shock for everybody that was anywhere near close to him.”

San Juan County undersheriff Brent Johnson said a man in his mid-60s visiting from B.C. fell off a friend’s boat near Roche Harbor early Thursday morning and was found dead a few hours later. Johnson said there were no signs of trauma on the body, which was transported to the medical examiner in Snohomish County.

-files from the Journal of the San Juan Islands