Longtime Republican Party stalwart and fundraiser, Harry Walia of Venice, Florida, died on Jan. 27 of a massive heart attacking while visiting family in India. It was only a few months ago that he lost his wife Diane to cancer.
Walia, born Harbhajan Singh Ahluwalia, was in his native hometown of Dharamshala in Himachel Pradesh when he passed away. He was 64.
A close friend of Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whom he first supported for President in 2016 before Trump secured the GOP nomination, Walia went on to serve on the Asian Pacific American Advisory Committee of the Trump campaign and after Trump was elected president, remained a strong supporter of his economic and trade policies.
While he was a fixture in GOP and Florida politics among Indian American Republicans, Walia’s only foray into running for public office was in 2010, when he made an unsuccessful bid for mayor of Venice, where he had lived for over three decades.
A real estate investor and property developer, Walia was involved in assisted living business in Bradenton, Florida and was a partner in Harmony Palms, a senior assisted living and memory care facility in Manatee County.
Puneet Ahluwalia, also a Republican Party activist and lobbyist in the Washington, D.C. area, who served with Walia in the Trump campaign’s Asian American advisory committee, told India Abroad that “I’ve still not gotten over the tragic news of Harry’s sudden passing.”
He recalled that “I met Harry during a Republican convention over 15 years ago and being from the "Ahluwalia" clan and both being Sikhs, we immediately bonded. Of course, the other similarity was that we both were proud Republicans and loved America. We discussed politics and delighted at the emerging role of Indian Americans. Our families were close and although sometimes we unfortunately missed family celebrations, we always shared the joys and challenges of life.”
Ahluwalia reminisced about “traveling to Venice to campaign for him when he was running for mayor. He introduced me to Sen. Rubio as he was one of his first supporters, when he decided to run for the U.S. Senate.”
“We both proudly served on President Trumps Asian Pacific American Advisory Committee and celebrated his win at the Asian Pacific Ball as we were both part of the organizing and host committee.”
Ahluwalia added, “Harry was larger than life. He was successful and passionate about things he did. He had a strong supportive caring partner in Diane. They travelled and spent quality time together. But when she was diagnosed with cancer he desperately tried all means to save her and prayed for a miracle. I recall him sharing the day she passed on, and when he bid farewell too her after she had suffered much.”
“And now he has joined her in less than six months of her passing,” he said.
“He was a tough but a good and kind soul who was very dear to me. He would be the heart of the party and from now on he will forever be in our hearts. May the almighty receive them in peace and love.”
Another close friend of Walia, and also an influential Republican Party activist and GOP fund-raiser, Danny Gaekwad of Ocala, Fla., told India Abroad that he was also visiting India and was with Walia on Jan. 26 and several other friends attending a wedding in New Delhi, and was “shocked and so very sad, when I heard about Harry’s passing while I was in transit at the Frankfurt airport, on my way back home.”
Gaekwad, a leading entrepreneur in Florida, acknowledged that “he did tell me that he was not feeling very well and wanted to go to his brother’s place in Chandigarh and spend some time there, but to hear that he had died the very next day after we met and had an enjoyable time at the wedding was an absolute shocker.”
“He was such a wonderful guy and a political animal and he was always very generous, not only when it came to political fundraising for his friends like Marco (Rubio) and other candidates he totally believed in, but to many humanitarian causes both in the U.S. and India.”
Gaekwad said, “We was one of the Indian American pioneers when it came to political activism and a mentor to all of us in Florida Republican politics, and I will miss him so very much because he was always there for you whenever you called him for support for one thing or the other, whether it was in politics or some other deserving cause.”
Besides his brother in Chandigarh, Walia is survived by a younger brother, Maninder Walia, a small business owner in Indianapolis, and an active member of the community, who serves as the board member for Centre for Interfaith Cooperation and is an erstwhile president of Sikh Satsang of Indianapolis.