East London printing visionary Vrij Harry laid to rest after sudden death

TRANSFORMING PUBLISHING: Businessman and struggle icon VrijHarry at his last public appearance at Harry’s Printers in Vincent Park, East London, congratulating Dr Siboniseli Mgolozeli on the launch of his new book on July 29 Picture: TAMMY FRAY

Harry’s Printers is one of the oldest institutions in East London, having been founded in 1929. On Friday, August 5 the printing giant was dealt a blow when it lost its leader, the visionary Vrij Harry, due to a suspected heart attack.

Harry took over the reins of the company from his father in 1973 and grew the business into a formidable publishing role player with branches all over the Eastern Cape, one in Pretoria, and admission as the only South African printer in the International Printers Network.

Speaking at one of his last public appearances in his capacity as MD of Harry’s Printers and Publishers, Harry extended congratulations to Dr. Siboniseli Mgolozeli, saying that the latter’s book was an important contribution to local literature because it captured the story of Mgolozeli’s uniquely African experience.

“This book makes use of anecdotal evidence from our local context in conversation with rigorous academic research, and this attempt at making the Western and European canon more accessible to us as black South Africans is what excites me about this book,” Harry said. “Harry’s Printers strives to publish books from local authors because we want to see our African experience captured on the page.”

In his obituary for the Daily Dispatch, journalist Ted Keenan writes, “He [Harry] loved reading and had a vast book collection. He supported local authors and would shave the printing prices as well as arrange book sale sessions.”

Former headmaster at Hudson Park High School and colleague at Harry’s Printers, Roy Hewett remarks of Harry, “His role in the printing company started by his grandfather reflects visionary leadership, considerable growth, and unparalleled support of the local writing community.

“His keen insight and rare ability to see the ‘big picture’ early and clearly, enabled Vrij Harry to develop his organization immeasurably, while never losing sight of the needs of his staff. My experience of Mr. Harry has been one of a friendly, caring, and supportive boss who allows his employees to grow while advancing the essential elements of a successful business.”

“My lasting impression is of a man who was extremely well-read, put his family, staff, and community at the forefront of his business decisions, while developing a printing and publishing company poised to grow its footprint internationally,” he said.

Layout sub-editor at Daily Dispatch Damien Sholayan worked with Harry’s Printers as part of the editorial team for Eastern Cape Today from 2008 until 2012 and he says “I have never met a CEO of a company that played such an active role in all departments of his business as Mr. H did. It was truly inspiring to me.

“Mr. Harry had a heart of gold and I say this from my personal experience. In 2012 when Mr. Harry sold Eastern Cape Today to new owners I had been battling drug addiction and even though I didn’t work for him anymore, he paid for me to go to my first rehabilitation centre, something that I will forever be grateful for.  I’m sure nobody knew about it and that’s the role Mr. Harry also played in the community; he helped and never wanted to take recognition for it.”

Harry is survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren and was laid to rest on August 6.



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