Charles W. “Charlie” Harris (90, VAA Lifetime #2158), September 30, 1927 – December 09, 2017, a 71-year resident of Tulsa, slipped the surly bonds of earth and went to his heavenly home on December 9, 2017.
Charlie was a founding member of EAA’s Antique/Classic Division, now the Vintage Aircraft Association, in the early 1970s and served in various capacities including National Director, Treasurer, Chairman of Executive Committee, Chairman of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee, and Director Emeritus from 1988 to the time of his death. He was inducted into the VAA Hall of Fame in 2006, one of many aviation honors he received during a lifetime of participation in aviation.
Charles was born September 30, 1927 in Pawhuska, OK. He accepted Christ and was baptized in the First Christian Church in Pawhuska as an 11 year old young man. He joined Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa in 1951. He attended the Pawhuska Public Schools graduating in May 1945. He earned five athletic letters in interscholastic athletics and served as president of his senior class. He attended the University of Oklahoma during the summer of 1945 prior to his enlistment as a 17 year old in the U.S. Navy in July 1945 where he served aboard active Fleet Cruisers the USS Vicksburg CL-86, the USS Springfield CL-66, and the USS Astoria CL-90. Following his honorable discharge from active duty in August 1946 he enrolled at the University of Tulsa where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration in January 1950. While at the University of Tulsa he was a member of Kappa Alpha Order social fraternity and was named the Outstanding Intramural Athlete at TU in 1949. He was inducted into the Kappa Alpha Order Hall of Honor in Tulsa in 1958 when the Kappa Alpha Order National Convention was held in Tulsa.
Following college graduation he joined Commercial Credit Company in February 1950 and left Commercial Credit in July 1955 to join Paul L. Sisk and Joe S. Eaton in a Tulsa-based automobile installment financing organization, Security Investment Company, which evolved into Transportation Leasing Company and became one of the largest independent vehicle and aircraft financing, leasing and rental organizations in the entire Southwest.
Mr. Harris had a lifetime interest in aviation which was influenced from an early age by his father’s ownership and activity in personal aircraft. Charlie learned to fly as a 16 year old in high school and his passion and devotion to aviation spanned his entire lifetime. He was deeply involved in many aviation organizations including a 30 year chairmanship of the Tulsa Regional Fly-In as well as being a co-founder and chairman of the National Biplane Association from 1986 to its conclusion in 2009. His extensive collection of pristine antique airplanes is known throughout the nation. The specialty collection included two world class aerobatic Pitts Specials which Charlie flew in regional aerobatic exhibitions on a fly-for-fun basis.
Charlie loved World War II aviation and naval history and was a well-known aviation author with his material published in various aviation periodicals and newsletters. He was also the editor of a nationally distributed monthly newsletter published by the EAA Vintage Aircraft Association Chapter 10 of Tulsa, Oklahoma for more than thirty years.
He served as a Director on Tulsa’s Jones-Riverside Airport Board for a number of years, was a member of the Downtown Rotary Club during 1970s as well as a member of Downtown Executive Club of Tulsa during that timeframe. During the 1970s he also served over 10 years in the downtown Nicholas Club supporting under privileged children. Charlie was an enthusiastic and lifelong ambassador for the City of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma in his corporate and aviation travels.
Mr. Harris was inducted into the Oklahoma Air and Space Hall of Fame in 2001 and was inducted into the EAA Vintage Aircraft Association Hall of Fame in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 2006. In 1984 Charlie was the first person the Oklahoma Aviator newspaper selected as the Oklahoma Aviator of the Year. In connection with his long term aviation events in Bartlesville, Oklahoma the Bartlesville Chamber of Commerce awarded him their Medallion of Honor in 1998, their equivalency to the Key to the City.
Charlie was privileged to live one of the most enjoyable lives possible. The joy of his association with schoolmates and teachers through 12 years in public education in Pawhuska prepared him not only for college but for a successful future life. His life was further enhanced by the closely bonded Kappa Alpha Order brotherhood at the University of Tulsa. His treasured association with the highly esteemed Paul L. Sisk and Joe S. Eaton combined to create a 60-plus year unreserved business success. The loyalty and constant support from the finest in the company’s staff and business associates as well as his acquaintances and friendships with world famous aviation personalities from his deep long term involvement in the world of aviation made his life a complete joy.
Charlie always considered himself to be one of the most fortunate men who ever lived. He felt this was particularly true in that his childhood and teenage years were blessed by living in Pawhuska, which at that time was the Crown Jewel of Osage County with excellent schools and an unexcelled community cultural and societal environment.
Charles W. Harris’ life and accomplishments will be long remembered by all of his friends and associates.
Mr. Harris was preceded in death by his wife Margaret C. Harris in December 1997 as well as his parents Charles H. Harris of Pawhuska in 1984 and Muriel Mae Harris Stephens of Tulsa in 1995. He is survived by a son Charles Henry Harris of Tulsa and a sister Patricia A Long of Austin, Texas.
Memorial services in Charlie’s honor are scheduled for Saturday, December 16, 2017, 10:00 AM at the Fitzgerald Southwood Colonial Chapel, 3612 East 91st Street South, Tulsa, OK 74137.
Should friends desire, contributions may be sent to Vintage Aircraft Association, Oshkosh, Wisconsin or a charity of your choice