About 130 of us went to the Service of Thanksgiving for John Harris held at St Mary’s Easton on Tuesday 6th December 2016. The service included the hymns: Guide me O thou great redeemer, Praise my soul the king of heaven and Jerusalem. Victoria Harris read the poem ‘How did he live?’. Tom Horsey read 1 Corinthians 13, Revd Alex Pease gave an address and Tim Harris read the following tribute:
My Father led an incredibly full, and varied life, it is so fantastic to see so many of his friends from the different parts of his life here today, as well as all the support we have received through letters and emails for all parts of the world.
One such email I think sums my Father up well: “When the actor David Garrick died, Doctor Johnson mourned what he memorably described as “that stroke of death that has eclipsed the gaiety of nations and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure.” I think these words have John Harris down to a tee. Original, whimsical, articulate, eccentric, often hysterically funny, but never unkind. Let’s hope he’s happily taking the mickey out of whoever passes for authority in his new berth.”
He was born in Doncaster in 1945 where my grandparents, Mary and Duncan were living at the time, and in time, joined by his sister Libby, brother Peter and for a period his brother Timothy who tragically died at a young age.
My Aunt Libby tells me he was a resilient and very independent boy. Always happiest when out of the reach of parental scrutiny and often up to no good.
I heard a number of stories from his childhood –my favourite being this one:
He told me he was signed up for Dance lessons. It will come as no surprise to anyone here that this wasn’t really quite up his street.
Instead he turned up at the hall with a bag of supposed dance kit, which in fact contained fertiliser and walked straight through the hall, out the back to the disused quarry behind and proceeded to blow parts of it up using fertiliser.
Having heard these stories, it now makes sense why he was never quite as angry as I expected when I had to inform him of my most recent gating or detention at school.
The favourite family story of him at school, was about him having to sit O Level maths 5 times…..And then becoming an accountant.
Libby tells me his Father made him go to a maths tutor, but Dad came to an amicable agreement with the tutor which involved Dad not going and the tutor keeping it a secret. It gave Dad more time to rove about.
He went to University at Oxford, and when I was applying to University, I asked him what it was like when he had to apply. He replied that ‘I just applied to each college with a different subject, and got accepted to read Ancient Chinese’. As random as this sounds, it did come in use later in life when sitting silently through meetings in China, where it was presumed that he could only speak English, which made them slightly more free with their discussions between themselves and at the end of the meetings he would proudly stand up thank them for their time and that he looked forward to working with them – in fluent Mandarin.
He was incredibly proud of his 4th class honours degree, one of the last 4th class honours to be given – but then he was fully occupied at Oxford with the University’s Air Squadron which led to a passion for aircraft and aviation – a great friend of his was a BA pilot, and always said he should have been a pilot instead of a Banker.
He met his first wife Theresa at Oxford, and owned and ran a shop in Oxford (and then started a construction company) while she completed her studies. He had his first son, Tom who married Suzie who in due course have had 4 fantastic children, of whom he was immensely proud.
He then turned his hand to Accountancy, qualified with Arthur Anderson, and thoroughly enjoyed that – the job of auditing companies satisfying his natural curiosity I think.
He moved to Citibank, running the Construction Group – where in fact he met my Mother for the first time, being her boss for a few weeks before he left for Toronto. He actually interviewed my mother. Out of the 7 that interviewed her, 6 handed in written approvals – she never found out if he approved her for the job or not.
After a couple of glorious years in Canada, he returned to London, heading up Chase Manhattan’s Project Finance Group, a job that seemed perfect as he was always abroad – the 7 languages he spoke came in useful here – not for the first time.
He met my Mother again, and phoned her to ask for a first date from Denmark – she may not have got the job in Project Finance that she wanted but she did get a husband.
My Parents were off to Saudi Arabia within days of marrying in 1978 where John was setting up a new merchant bank but happily moved onto Hong Kong a year later where they spent 10 very happy years.
My Father worked for 3 banks out there, always managing to move on before his company pension vested! He made some fabulous friends from all 3, some of whom are here today while many are raising a glass to him at this moment in various parts of the globe.
Although he travelled extensively, as he covered the whole region, he was always delighted that Head Office was in a different time zone, be it NYC, London or Los Angeles……
In due course, my sister, brother and I were all born in Hong Kong and brought him so much pleasure.
Tragically my Brother Nicholas developed acute leukaemia and we returned to the UK to Great Ormond Street and fought with him for over 2 years before he sadly died in 1991. He is buried in this churchyard – perhaps this also helped bring my Parents closer together.
He moved to Standard Chartered for a few years, before deciding that given the first Gulf War had just finished, Kuwait would be an ideal place to work and he started 3 years there as CEO of Gulf Bank. One of his prouder, and probably more annoying moments, was getting his first and only hole in one whilst out there. Pleased on one hand, disappointed on the other given that hole in one celebrations in a ‘dry’ country are slightly more muted than they might be elsewhere.
After his stint in the Gulf, he joined an Austrian bank, running their operations in various Eastern European countries. Many of which we were able to visit and experience ourselves when we went to see him.
His last job before retiring was for the Aga Khan – running his banking operations in Kenya, Pakistan and India. Hardy ever in his Paris flat, he came home when he could, in fact one year, commuting weekly from Mumbai. Although it was rather tiring, it did of course do wonders for his Air miles accumulation.
Once he retired, he worked on several things at home: he joined the Parish Council, helped set up the Winchester Credit Union, and worked on finance for the Hampshire Youth Options, and for the last 2 years, was running the Poppy Appeal in the valley.
More than this though, retirement gave him a chance to utilise his air miles. His annual trip to the States where this year he visited 9 states – plus a trip to Barbados for lunch – because it made the flights cheaper. When I started travelling with work, and on my first trip to South Africa, flying ‘back of the bus’ he decided to go to Brussels for a night, purely so he could guest me in the BA lounge before my flight. I’d imagine one of his proudest moments was being awarded an Honorary lifetime Gold card from British Airways.
When he fell ill, he faced his prognosis incredibly bravely and very philosophically with as he put it, ‘a great 3 score years and ten, plus one’.
Clearly there was a couple of things he wanted arranged before his death, move some money, cancel the holiday to Muscat he had booked with my mother – but primarily to ensure that his mountain of air miles didn’t die with him.
Given the extensive travel and working abroad, he would often be found with my Mother, either at a concert or horse event for my sister, or standing around a muddy field watching me chase a ball. He was incredibly supportive of whatever it was my sister and I decided to do, and for that we are of course incredibly thankful.
I, and I’m sure everyone he met, learnt a huge amount from him. His range and depth of knowledge on a huge number of topics was vast and interesting. He could speak and write a range of languages from his time working abroad. He would certainly have been my ‘phone a friend’ if required.
More than that, he was a man of substance and morals. He instilled in me the importance of the qualities he felt strongly about and believed in throughout his life. Humility, integrity and honesty were incredibly important to him, both in business and personally. Over and above there were other essential life skills, drinking wine and how best to accumulate and use those Air miles.
I hope at this stage, there are more grins and wry smiles than wet eyes, as surely that is what he would have preferred.
The amount of people who have been in touch since his death has been incredibly touching, and a great source of comfort to my Mother and the whole family. I think this speaks volumes for the sheer number of people who not only are attending here today, but also from every corner of the globe, and from a variety of different walks of life, be it old colleagues and friends, to comments about how he will be missed on the bus into Winchester which he religiously took each morning into town., – or scything those dandelions .
He will be incredibly sadly missed by all, but I am sure stories he told or things he did will bring many moments of laughter and joy for many years to come.