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Tom Harrigan to retire from Laura's Travel
By George Watson

 

When you first meet Tom Harrigan and see his brimming smile and hear his enthusiastic voice, it would seem his happiness is based upon the fact that he is retiring at the end of October.

Why not? He has worked for most of his adult life, other than the time it took to heal and recover from an accident in his former profession as a police officer. Since 1973, Harrigan has been a travel professional at Laura’s Travel – a longtime fixture in Redlands.

But talk to Harrigan and listen to his stories -- hearing the pleasure he has derived from bringing pleasure to travelers from Redlands and the surrounding area -- and it becomes clear that those smiles stem from a career done well and full.

“It has fulfilled my every wish,” said Harrigan, who turned 74 last month. “The people I work for and the ones I work with have made it so amazing. I’m surrounded by people who are loving and caring. That’s what separates us – we aren’t a business.

“We are all a family.”

Working for 44 years as a travel professional hadn’t been Harrigan’s original career intentions. He grew up in Redlands and graduated from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Academy. He worked for the Redlands Police Department for five years before leaving for the Seattle Police Department, where he worked for five more years, some of which he served as a public information officer.

It was during his time in Seattle that he suffered two injuries, the second of which coming when he slipped and fell outside of the police station. During surgery, a doctor’s mishap sent him into a year-long rehabilitation, which he undertook after moving back to Redlands.

Once he was able to walk again, he sought out a new career. That led him through the door of Laura’s Travel.

“I came with a great deal of people skills and very little training,” Harrigan said, emitting a deep guffaw.

Laura Creatura, the owner of the travel company who passed away in 2010, gave Harrigan a chance by telling him he could answer the phones for two hours a day for two days. On the third day, Creatura told him he could stay, Harrigan said chuckling.

In those days, there were no computers. All bookings were made by phone. Harrigan thrust himself into the job, learning as much as he could as quickly as he could. He immersed himself in learning about the world, about the places to visit and the destinations not to miss.

Lynda Schauf, who inherited the business from her mother, described her relationship with Harrigan as “brother and sister.”

“There is no one more honest, committed and devoted to both me, Laura’s Travel and his clients than Tom,” Schauf said. “He gets excited about everything he does for his clients and that keeps them very engaged and very committed to our office.”

She praised his prodigious work ethic that once placed him in the top 5 percent of sales in the nation for a top tour-and-river cruise company.  

“Tom has a great sense of humor that brings great joy to us on the team every day,” Schauf said. “He is one of the more thoughtful people I have ever known. It is really sad for me that this is happening because we have spent more time together than we have with our families. It is going to be a big void in my life.”

Harrigan is a gregarious fellow. He remains lean and tall, and as a wearer of vests, quite distinguished. Talking with him is like getting a jolt of energy because he is as happy as he is friendly. His office is neat and everything seems to have its place. Posters of a serene stream in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and a peaceful town in France cover his office walls, along with a photo of himself skiing, a sport that Harrigan took up when he was 44 years of age.

For Harrigan, his true excitement came when new clients began telling him about their plans. But these weren’t simply plans to Harrigan – these were dreams he believed in his heart he had to fully satisfy.

“When a person comes in, I don’t know where the adventure is going to go,” Harrigan said. “That’s the attraction that keeps me loving this job so much. A part of me goes with them.”

Everyone had different dreams. Some wanted to go to Europe. Others wanted to explore Asia or Africa or South America. It didn’t take long for Harrigan to figure out what was at the heart of each traveler’s dreams – comfort of one sort or another, and a feeling of satisfaction that those dreams were met.

“A traveler is looking for a change of surroundings, and in most cases, they are looking for a comfortable change of surroundings.” Harrigan said. “Over the years, the people who have entrusted their vacation plans understood that I was here to make sure what they saw in their mind came to be.”

Ask Harrigan what he is going to now and his face goes a little blank. He isn’t sure how he will feel when he actually retires because his job, his clients, his colleagues, have been such an important part of his life. But he knows he leaves the job feeling complete.

“I am so grateful,” Harrigan said. “It’s not a job, it’s a responsibility. I never worried though, because if you are bringing them a great trip, they are going to have a great time, and everyone will be happy.”

The future is sure to be filled with some adventures of his own – most likely some European river cruise adventures, which after visiting five of the Earth’s seven continents, he has settled upon as his favorite. There will be ample time to spend with his wife of 56 years, Margie. Together, they raised their children, Sean and Julie, and made Redlands a home together. There also will be time for his regular “coffee with the boys” and daily workouts at the YMCA.

There is still much to do for Harrigan. And assuredly, there will be many smiles still to be had.

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