General Tours founder Alex Harris dies at 91

By Michelle Baran

Alex HarrisAlexander Harris, founder and chairman emeritus of General Tours World Traveler, has died.

Harris was born in 1921 in Poland. During World War II, he was arrested in Russian-occupied eastern Poland and sent to Siberia, after which he and other Polish citizens were released and conscripted into the Second Polish Army to fight the Nazis.

He served until 1945 and was awarded Poland’s highest military honor, the Virtuti Militari.

At the end of the war, Harris found himself in a displaced-persons camp in Eschwege, Germany. Soon afterward, he went to New York and founded General Tours in 1947.

In 1954, after requesting permission from the U.S. State Department and the Eisenhower administration, Harris was granted the authority to operate the first scheduled tours to the Soviet Union for American travelers.

He expanded General Tours into a global travel company and helped establish the U.S. Tour Operators Association. Harris was inducted into the ASTA Hall of Fame in 1992 and received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2005.

“I met Alex for the first time when I worked for Pan Am in the early ‘80's as we collaborated in building Pan Am's re-entry to the Soviet Union with the first nonstop flight from New York to Moscow,” General Tours President Bob Drumm wrote in an email. “In 1992, we purchased General Tours and Alex became a mentor to me and a friend to many in our company. Growing closer over the years, Alex was almost a father to me. I will miss him very much.”

Harris is survived by his wife, Judy McDaniel Harris.

Information about a service celebrating Harris’ life is available by calling General Tours at (800) 858-0908.

Contributions in Harris’ memory can be made to Tourism Cares at www.tourismcares.org/donate. On the donation page, type “For Alex Harris” in the special notes field, as an educational fund is being established.

Donations can also be made to the Jewish Foundation of the Righteous at www.jfr.org. Click on “Donate to Make a Gift in Memory of Alex Harris.”

Additional donations can be made to the Mary Manning Walsh Home. Mail checks to Sister Sean William O’Brien, Executive Director, Mary Manning Walsh Home, 1339 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021.

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly. 

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