Theodore P. “Ted” Harris Jr., a recognized expert in U.S. transportation policy and longtime airline industry consultant, died May 21 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. from complications associated with spinal fusion surgery. He was 73.
Prior to his retirement, Harris served as president of Airline Industry Resources, an airline industry consulting company he founded in the 1980s in McLean, Va.
William Kiely, a business associate and longtime friend, said Harris, a lifelong Democrat, served as an undersecretary at the Department of Transportation under the administration of President Gerald Ford in the 1970s where, among other things, he played a role in saving Pan American Airlines from closing its doors.
Although the airline giant eventually went out of business in 1991, the efforts by the government and airline industry advocates to keep it in business in the mid-1970s have been credited with saving thousands of airline industry jobs for more than 15 years.
Harris also played a role in helping the U.S. Postal Service expand and improve its Express Mail service in the 1980s and early ‘90s through a coordinated air transport system at a time when private mail and parcel carriers were cutting into the Postal Service’s revenue from business customers and consumers.
The Chicago Tribune reported in 1991 that under a Postal Service contract from 1988 through 1991, Harris’s Airline Industry Resources firm prepared a detailed report on air transport and postal delivery services for the Postal Service called “Air Transportation Management Strategy: 1990 and Beyond.”
In the 1980s, Harris also served as publisher of two magazines that reported on airline industry issues, Airline Executive and Commuter Air.
At the time, he emerged as an outspoken opponent of airline industry deregulation, writing newspaper commentaries and speaking on television news programs, including the Public Broadcasting System’s MacNeil-Lehrer Report, urging Congress to scrap an extensive deregulation proposal that it eventually approved.
A Dec. 30, 1984 story in the Washington Post reports that Harris personally filed a last-minute lawsuit to block the now-defunct Civil Aeronautics Board, which for years had regulated practices of U.S. airline companies, from ending anti-trust immunity for travel agents. Deregulation opponents argued that the immunity status for travel agents helped consumers by enabling travel agents to remain independent from airline companies and to search for the best possible fares for passengers.
In a December 1990 commentary in the Chicago Tribune called “Air Deregulation: Chaos Out of Order,” Harris and co-author Paul Steven Dempsey pointed out that, at that time, deregulation polices resulted in far fewer airline companies than there were prior to deregulation.
Kiely and others who knew Harris said that in addition to his airline industry work he served diligently as an informal counselor and mentor for people with alcohol and substance abuse problems in a volunteer capacity. Harris, who was open about his own alcoholism and his success in overcoming it through a 12-step program, often took the initiative to take under his wing others struggling with drinking or drug problems, including members of the LGBT community.
In one of many similar examples, Kiely said a neighbor from McLean, Va., who moved next door to Kiely’s home near Albuquerque, N.M., told him about a son who became addicted to drugs after completing his service in the military, where he performed air traffic control-related work.
“After he got out he got into drugs, but he was finally doing OK, was married and had a kid,” Kiely quoted the neighbor as saying. “To my amazement, he told me a guy named Ted Harris was instrumental in getting him off drugs and even got him a job as an air traffic controller at Washington National Airport,” Kiely said.
According to Harris’s sister, Rosemary Harris Abate, Harris was born in New York City, where he attended St. Raymond’s Elementary School and graduated from Xavier Military Prep High School in Manhattan. He received his undergraduate degree in business from New York’s Fordham University and received master’s degrees from both the University of Tennessee and the University of Maryland, Abate said in a family prepared obituary.
Kiely said Harris later taught business at the University of Maryland. Harris served on the board of directors of River Park Mutual Homes, a cooperative apartment and townhouse development in Southwest D.C. where Harris lived since the mid-1990s.
Friends said Harris’s friendly demeanor and support for their personal needs continued in recent years despite his own serious medical challenges. He had been under treatment for an auto immune disorder called Myasthenia Gravis for more than 10 years. In April, he underwent complicated and risky spinal fusion surgery at Georgetown University Hospital for a spinal condition that doctors told him could lead to paralysis if not corrected by surgery.
Following the surgery he spent nearly four weeks at two local rehabilitation centers undergoing physical therapy to help him recover from the spinal operation. He was taken to Sibley Memorial Hospital on May 21 after developing a urinary tract infection that doctors said appears to have triggered a heart attack or pulmonary embolism that took his life.
“He loved the outdoors, particularly sailing the Intra Coastal Waterway and the Chesapeake Bay,” Abate said.
“Ted was very fortunate in having amazingly kind friends to whom the family is extremely grateful,” Abate said. “If anyone wishes to remember Ted, please do so by doing something kind for someone else today.”
Harris is survived by his sisters Rosemary Abate and her husband Robert of Hopkinton, Mass., and Virginia Harris Bartot and husband Morris of Chicago, six nieces and nephews, and many friends in Washington, D.C. and across the nation.
A memorial gathering in honor of his life is scheduled for 1 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 6, in the upstairs room at Mr. Henry’s restaurant at 601 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C. A scattering of his ashes at the Chesapeake Bay is scheduled to take place shortly after the memorial.