Robert E. Harris, president and chief executive officer of the Texas Bankers Association, died Friday of a heart attack. He was 54.
"It's a huge shock," said James A. Woodall Jr., the association's chairman-elect, who is also president and CEO of Dayton (Tex.) State Bank. "Usually when people pass away they show signs of being ill, but Bob was healthy, gregarious, energetic."
"He was considered a brilliant legislative strategist who also had tremendous business acumen," said Donald G. Ogilvie, executive vice president of the American Bankers Association. "He served ABA in countless capacities since 1975 and was a wise counselor."
A director of the Graduate School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin, Mr. Harris was in Madison, Wis., for a board meeting when he died. Roger Beverage, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Bankers Association, was in Madison with Mr. Harris and said he died in his sleep.
"He was a powerful force in banking. He was a voice of calm and reason, and he was an inspiration to a lot of people, including me," Mr. Beverage said. "I loved him, and I'll miss him very much."
Mr. Harris, who led three state banking trade associations during the last 23 years, took the helm of the Texas group in February 1988. He had run the Oklahoma Bankers Association from 1980 to 1988 and the Nebraska Bankers Association from 1975 to 1980.
He attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where he became an avid fan of the school's football team. "He loved the Nebraska Cornhuskers, golf, and banking," a Texas Bankers Association spokeswoman said.
He is survived by his wife, Betty Jo, four children, and three grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were still being made Friday. The Texas Bankers Association is establishing a college scholarship in his name. Donations may be sent to the Texas Bankers Foundation, 203 W. 10th St., Austin, Tex. 78701.