Community Remembers Wicomico Airport Icon - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Community Remembers Wicomico Airport Icon

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Harris Purnell Harris Purnell
SALISBURY, Md. – The beloved owner of an airport taxi service at the Salisbury-Ocean City: Wicomico Regional Airport died Sunday. Family and friends are still trying to come to grips with the reality. 

Longtime Delmarva residents and people who frequently use the airport are quite familiar with Harris Purnell, 78, who ran a taxi and bag delivery service at the airport for 30 years.

"I have my moments, but I know he would want me to be brave and courageous and go on," said his wife Addie Purnell, who said Harris loved his job at the airport and enjoyed meeting new people. 

The couple had been married for 55 years. The two went on a three-day trip to California to visit Harris' brother. On Sunday, they were making their way from California to Philadelphia to catch a flight home to Salisbury, but Harris never made it.

Addie said the two were on a standby flight, so they were not able to sit next to each other on a layover flight in Arizona. Just four rows behind her husband, Addie saw him slump over in his seat. She said the plane made an emergency landing in Memphis, Tenn. where he died. Addie does not know why he died, but she suspects heart failure. 

Isaac White, who worked with Harris at the Wicomico Regional Airport, clings onto fond memories of the man, who so many people described as friendly and outgoing.

"He was always thinking of others,” White said. “He always put himself last and tried to do the best for everybody."

Purnell was known for traveling in his infamous 1996 Buick station wagon, with a wood-grained trim on the doors. His son, Frank Purnell, donned his father's hat and sat on the sofa in Addie's living room, where he spoke about how much his father loved transporting people in that car.

"I don't care where it was at, he was known for coming down the road in slow motion,” said Frank, who laughed.

Frank is one of five children. All of them have helped out with the family business.

Over the course of Harris' career, he drove celebrities like Ed Bradley, a famed journalist who died in 2006. At the request of the Perdue family, he drove the hearse of Jim Perdue's father, Frank. 

Jim issued the following statement about the Harris' death. He said, "My Dad (Frank Perdue) appreciated Harris because he would go out of his way to take care of Henson airlines passengers who experienced travel problems. Both Dick Henson and Frank Perdue believed 'the customer is always right' and that was Harris's belief also. I always thought Harris was a good friend, always had a smile and was Salisbury's most passionate ambassador. He loved to gush about Salisbury to visitors he carried in his taxi." 

Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis knew Harris well too. In a statement, he told WBOC, “This week's loss of Mr. Harris Purnell has shocked and saddened us all. Wicomico County has lost its finest ambassador, who left an indelible mark on everyone who knew him. He will never be replaced.” 

Arrangements are being made between Piedmont Airlines and U.S. Airways to fly Harris' body to Baltimore this week. A local funeral home will arrange to bring his body to Salisbury.

A funeral is set to take place at Emmanuel Wesleyan Church Monday. A time has not been determined.
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