At the moment of Anthony’s birth the midwife took it upon herself to put a mask containing I know not what, over my nose and mouth. As I dropped into unconsciousness I glanced at the clock, it was 9am.
To this day I have bitterly resented her act. I could take the pain – and as far as I knew there was no danger to either me, or my baby. I wanted to be fully awake for that magic moment after nine months and two weeks of waiting!
I did not know then, that I would be fully awake for his death 47 years later.
The Harris family arrives in Israel and finds a home on Moshav Habonim, Anthony is 2 years old his brother Peter is five.
From there to Beit Yannai, an idyllic mostly farming village on the Mediterranean coast, from our house an unrestricted sea view, a paradise for kids.
Israel was in a deep recession , no paradise for adults.
The Kings Hotel was in Argyle Square, Kings Cross. If the neighbourhood had not been so run down and shoddy, one could say it was a fine preserved example of Victorian architecture.
We had purchased the B and B hotel in 1966 with help from my mother and aunt, having returned from Israel in 1966 with three boys( our sabra Micah) three empty suitcases….completely broke.
The decision which forced our return to London, was when we discovered that Anthony aged 10 had a genetically malformed kidney. As far as I was concerned there was no other option but to come back to England. His intricate surgery was performed by the most highly regarded kidney surgeon in Europe, Innes Williams at the expense of the NHS.
Anthony was an energetic, charismatic and intelligent child, but a teacher’s nightmare. He excelled in sports was a natural leader with amazing self confidence and cheek. His A level was a distinction in Classical and Modern Hebrew.
Anthony was on the first flight to Israel as a volunteer in the Yom Kippur war. He had achieved a place at the Bournemouth College of Hotel management, but threw caution to the winds due to his immense love of Israel and the fact that all of his friends had been enlisted.
On his return to London he entered the college, where he met his future wife Jacquie and so started on the road to international acclaim.
Today would be 10 years to his death(according to the gregorian calendar) it was approximately a month after the death of astronaut Ilan Ramon. A well known PR director of one of Israel’s prestigious hotels wrote ”Anthony Harris was the Ilan Ramon of the hotel industry”
When he died of multiple myeloma in March 2003 he was CEO of Hilton International. Before his funeral in Israel a notice was sent out to the managers of the 600 hotels in the chain most of whom had known him personally, telling them not to come to the funeral, which was to be an intimate event.
Apart from the family and his extended circle of friends only the Chairman David Michels and President of Hilton USA Deiter Huckerstein (his first boss) and Roni Fortis his close friend from his first days with the company were there. However, more than 1000 people went to the Park Lane Hotel in London for a memorial service one month after his death.
His career with Hiltons spanned some 25 years starting at the London Hilton then the Hilton Tel Aviv from where he was appointed manager of the Cavalieri Hotel in Rome. He left Israel in the early 80’s with his 2 children and heavily pregnant wife, their third child Anna was born in Rome. Their first, Tom had been born in Oxford coming to Israel aged 6weeks the second Ella in Assuta, Tel Aviv.
As a teenager, when he and his brothers helped us in the Kings Hotel the bottom end of the hotel business, he would say ”I would like to own the most beautiful hotels in the world”
In a way he did. When, after being appointed and serving as Hilton’s Vice President for Sales in Europe and Africa, he was” head hunted” by the Aga Khan whose company CIGA did indeed own the “most beautiful hotels in the world” The Venice Lido, Danielli and Gritti Palace, Excelsiors and Grand Hotels around Europe to name a few, where all converted palaces.
CIGA was purchased by Sheraton after Anthony had turned the ailing group around. Anthony then was made Sheraton’s head of Operations for the whole of Italy and Africa which included Israel. In the 90’s David Michels a former colleague from Hilton invited him to become his number two in Stakis. This was a very successful Scottish based group with hotels throughout the UK and Ireland. Hilton purchased Stakis and so Anthony was appointed CEO.
In 2001 when Israel was undergoing a crisis in tourism, he was invited to the Tourism Conference. He spoke about the importance of branding not just for the company but each individual hotel and mostly about giving quality service so that guests want to return.
In the tribute to him at the memorial ceremony in Park Lane it was said ”He achieved much in a short time due to pure talent and effort. He was a consummate hotelier with a passion for the industry, an inspiring leader with huge empathy for those around him. His legacy to Hilton includes the Hilton University, dedicated to improving management skills throughout the organisation and advancing the potential in young employees .Also initiating the Hilton in the Community Foundation which has raised millions for good causes. He has left an indelible mark on Hilton”
He told me once” Mum when I go into a hotel for the first time although I know that the manager is waiting for me, I go straight down to the kitchens. I talk to the chefs and the commies, I chat up the reception clerks and the doorman because I want to meet those, without who’s service, the guest will never be happy” The Manager will tell me what I want to hear………..they will tell me the truth”
He may not be a household name anymore and Hilton has changed hands several times in the decade since he died but just ask anyone anywhere, who worked in one of the hotels during Anthony’s tenure. Their eyes will light up, some may even shed a tear.
A tragic loss, not only to his family but also to the hotel industry.