Fred Poe, the world traveler who built the state’s best known travel agency, died as he lived — on the road. He died Friday in Vancouver, en route to a trans-Canada rail journey. He was 81.
Funeral arrangements will be announced by Ruebel Funeral Home.
He started Frederick Poe Travel Service with his wife, Tina, in 1961. His knowledge of the world was encyclopedic and travelers who used Poe could count on notes from Poe for every stop — not just guides to major sights, but tips on restaurants, bars, hotels and off-beat experiences. He loved exotic destinations and wrote about them often over the years for the Arkansas Times. He blogged about his travels, too. A good representation is from 2008 blog posts that spanned a sybaritic stay in Hong Kong, a stop in Istanbul and then a journey to the “Three Stans,” beginning with Afghanistan.
The Poe Travel website bio of Fred noted in 2013:
Fred recently returned from another exciting round-the-world journey during which he landed in Hawaii, Nagasaki, Vienna, Algiers, and Istanbul among other places. He paid his respects at Catherine the Great’s birthplace in Szczecin, Poland and “found his angel in Algiers,” after injuring his foot in some ruins. He also visited a Stonehenge-like outcropping in the ancient city of Urfa in southeast Turkey, whose history dates back to Neolithic times. “My travels as usual have been bonkers. I can go any place I want to.”
More to come on a life fully lived. His daughter, Ellison Poe, is now president of the agency he founded.
His son, Tony Poe, told me that his father had just arrived in Vancouver by plane to meet a friend for a journey by rail across Canada to Montreal when he was stricken, perhaps by an embolism. He was to meet another friend there for a return train trip to Vancouver.
“He was bound and determined to keep going,” Tony Poe said.
The family plans a memorial gathering from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m Thursday at the Capital Hotel. Fred Poe left an obituary he’d written. I hope to have it to share before long.
UPDATE: The obituary Fred Poe prepared, with dates inserted, gaves a great flavor of him:
Fred Poe, aged 81, died Friday. Born to Fred Poe Sr, a World War One hero awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Government and Hortense LeLaurin whose father emigrated from France to Pine Bluff in opposition to his native country’s role in the infamous Dreyfus Affair. The Poe family were early pioneer settlers in Saline County before Arkansas statehood.
Educated at Little Rock High School and the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Poe graduated from Vanderbilt University where we wrote the college musical comedy and was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Upon graduation Fred moved to San Francisco becoming part of the Beatnik subculture and playing ragtime and jazz piano in clubs. Drafted, he served as a translator in Germany in the US Forces and did graduate work at Mainz University in Eastern European History. He apprenticed in the travel agency field with agencies in Montana and Washington State and returned home to open Poe Travel in 1961 as likely the youngest travel agency owner in the country. Poe Travel has had international success in its field and is now operated by his daughter Ellison and partner Margaret Farrell Kemp. The family lived for two sabbatical periods in Vienna and the agency now boasts a branch office in Istanbul.
Poe married Tina Bohlinger of Billings,Montana in 1961, a union resulting in divorce 24 years later. Childen include Ellison LeLaurin Poe of Little Rock, Antoine “Tony” Poe and wife Laine Rosen Poe of Little Rock and one grandchild Jane LeLaurin Madden.
He is also survived by a son in law Joe E.Madden Jr of Little Rock and brother in law the former Lt Governor of Montana John Bohlinger of Helena. Also surviving his sister Betty Stevenson of Louisville and a host of nephews and nieces.
Poe, a life long and proud liberal, was active in the Civil Rights Struggle among other accomplishments having sat in at the Memphis Airport Restaurant which resulted in its racial integration. He is a member of the ACLU, a former president of the Little Rock SKAL club made up of travel professionals and was a lifetime member of the Country Club of Little Rock/ As a travel writer he enjoyed great success in local publications, published at Bicentennial Guide to the USA for the German speaking market and was frequently quoted in such publications as the NY TIMES, the CONDE NAST TRAVELER, TRAVEL AND LEISURE and the WALL ST JOURNAL. He was a serious scholar with a fine library on the subject of the Nazi Holocaust and a dedicated art collector with especially significant items from the Russian Avant Garde and 20th Century Austrian schools.
A world traveler from his first solo trip at age nine on the Rock Island’s “Doodlebug” from Little Rock to El Dorado, Poe visited 168 countries (a country being defined as one which issues its own postage stamps) include such arcane destintions as Tristan da Cunha, the Faroe Islands, Afghanistan’s Wakkan Corridor and Upland Togo. Poe Travel was the first American travel agency to arrange tourist travel to the Peoples’ Republic of China as that nation’s Cultural Revolution wound down, with son Tony Poe led an early group of Americans to North Korea. He loved automobile trips and drove in each of the 50 states and every province and territory of Canada save Nunavut which he visited only by air.
Memorials may be made to the Arkansas Arts Center.
I was reminded, too, by Rett Tucker of another way in which Fred was a trend-setter.
Fred Poe was the first person to buy a condo in downtown Little Rock’s River Market District. He committed to the purchase in 2001 and made his home in the Arkansas Capital Commerce Center at the corner of Third and River Market Avenue on the 7th floor. He served continuously on the Property Owners’ Association board of directors and was a delight to be around, bringing his charm and sense of humor to every meeting. Fred was always positive, never complained and was known and liked by everyone in the neighborhood. He will be greatly missed.