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Harry Baum, MBE, dies aged 86

Doyen of the British meetings industry passes away at nursing home

Harry Baum, right, with friends

One of the most far-sighted founding fathers of the British meeting industry, Harry Baum, MBE, passed away peacefully on September 15 at the Nightingale nursing home in Clapham, London, at the age of 86.

Born in Vienna in 1927 he fled to England in 1938 with his older sister Franzi as part of the Kindertransport before the purges of the second world war. With the help of the then Archbishop of York, his mother was able to join them. He never saw his father again.

After a classical education he took on the role of Travel Director at the National Union of Students and pioneered student charter flights. In 1954 he co-founded Specialised Travel Service, which later became Spectra Travel.

In the late fifties he was running ‘grand tours of Europe’ for American high school students, using Oxbridge undergrads as couriers who later, it was said, were recruited by MI6, military intelligence.

Belonging to many industry associations, Harry Baum was an early member of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) and was made a lifetime member in 2008. An abiding legacy will be his inevitable appearance at the final plenary session, usually during the financial report, when he would rise to his feet and deliver a blistering tirade of criticism, phrased in the most elegant English.

His pithy put-downs were always worth quoting. This was his solution for the eternally-debated yet non-existent London Convention Centre: “Convert Westminster Central Hall, sling a bridge to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre and get them to run it”.

Long-time colleague Martin Kinna of the Convention Partnership recalls accompanying Harry to musical festivals in Bayreuth and Salzburg. 

“We once stayed in an old inn in France where he noticed a plaque on the wall saying Joan of Arc had stayed there on such and such a date on her way to Rouen. He told the Inn’s owners it could not possibly be that date because she was somewhere else two days later and could not have got there in time.”

Another friend and associate, Harry Fine of Harry Fine Associates who has known him for 40 years, says "Harry was a warm and generous man and we shared a love of classical music a subject about which he knew far more than I. However he indulged me and we had some fascinating conversations. I remember asking him who were his three favourite conductors and he replied 'Furtwangler, Furtwangler and Furtwangler'."

Harry Baum co-founded Euromic, coined the phrase ‘Destination Management Company’ and, among many other appointments, became Director of London Tourist Board. His company’s fortunes waxed and waned and was eventually bought by two of its directors.

One of them, Wendy Moffatt, said: “I am sure that many of us in the industry owe a great deal to Harry.  He taught us the difference between leisure tourism and business tourism and how to meet the very special needs of the incentive achiever. His brilliant mind and sometimes wicked sense of humour caught many on the back foot and his sharp tongue could sometimes cut to the quick, but nobody who knew him could deny that they were richer from knowing him in whatever walk of life it may have been.
“He will be sadly missed, not only by his wife and daughter, but by those of us around the world that he touched with his profound knowledge and brilliant mind – but his wit and wisdom will live on.”

The funeral will be held on Monday 29th September at 2.45pm at Lambeth Crematorium, Blackshaw Road, Tooting, London SW17 0BY. No flowers are requested – donations may be made in Harry’s memory to Medecins Sans Frontieres.

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