On Monday, February 26, 2018, Jesse Upchurch, 93, passed away peacefully at his home in Fort Worth, Texas home from natural causes. Jesse Upchurch was the co-founder and former chairman of Virtuoso Travel Advisors. Vituoso has a cruise division called Virtuoso Voyages, a collection of the best cruise experiences in the world, available only through a Virtuoso travel advisor.
Upchurch’s wide-ranging career spanned more than 54 years and is considered a travel industry luminary and pioneer in luxury travel. He is honored as one of our Notable Cruise Industry Deaths.
Upchurch was born in Gowdeysville, South Carolina and was raised primarily by his maternal grandparents due to the loss of both parents at a very young age. He left South Carolina at age 17 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II, serving as ship’s engineer and rising to the rank of lieutenant.
After being discharged from the military, he joined the United States Line, where he served as the chief electrical engineer on the USS Washington. On a transatlantic crossing he met his future wife, Constance Johnston, and after a beautiful courtship involving months of love letters, he married Connie at the Johnston family home on Pine Island, Rye, New York.
In 1986, he and his son, Matthew, founded Virtuoso, a network of luxury travel sellers. Upchurch also was a co-founder of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, and he served as chairman, CEO and president of the organization. Plus, he held the chairmanship of the African Travel Association.
Upchurch was a supporter of conservation as a founding member of the World Wildlife Fund’s 1001 Club, and even purchased land in Kenya to help protect an endangered species of giraffes by donating the land to the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife. For decades, he was chairman of the executive committee of Tandy Corporation, which is a leather goods company based in Fort Worth, Texas.