Bob O’Loughlin Sr. never wanted to be called a show promoter. But as a top show producer possessing a flair for showmanship and consumer education, he left an indelible positive mark on generations of outdoor-loving families — including his own — across the United States and Canada.
Fittingly, Bob passed away of natural causes at his Portland home at the age of 80 on Aug. 17 following an annual hunting trip with his family in Southeast Oregon.
For over seven decades, Bob and his Portland-based O’Loughlin Trade Shows have introduced millions of showgoers to the pleasures and joys of outdoor adventure, including RVing, camping, boating, fishing, hunting and other pursuits.
Flooding Portland’s Memorial Coliseum to stage a floating boat show, taking a fully-grown killer whale “on the road,” spotlighting the skills of “Twiggy, The Waterskiing Squirrel” and attracting the likes of Ted Williams, Johnny Unitas, The Supremes and Tony Bennett for personal appearances, Bob blended imagination and ingenuity to create traffic-building show attractions that captivated audiences and supported exhibitor participation.
“Dad never stopped dreaming, and his passion was infectious,” said son and company president Bill O’Loughlin. “He told us he was able to visualize a show’s feature attraction in color — down to the smallest detail. It drove some of us crazy when it came down to the execution, but in the end you knew there was method to the madness.”
Spanning four generations, the family-owned company has produced hundreds of consumer shows, including the Portland Home & Garden Show (65 years), Portland Boat Show (52 years) and the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show (37 years).
Today, three of Bob’ sons and a grandson — the third and fourth generations involved in the family-owned business — continue to produce a full calendar of the region’s top consumer events.
Robert Murray O’Loughlin was born Jan. 14, 1932, in Minneapolis, Minn. Fishing and hunting the streams and woods of Minnesota fostered his lifelong love affair with the great outdoors. He eagerly shared this passion with his family — and with the public through the company’s shows.
Bob also inherited showmanship and box office acumen from his father, Thomas O’Loughlin Sr. A former barnstormer, boxing promoter, fighter manager and ice show producer, he later produced successful consumer shows throughout the United States and Canada.
Bob got his start in high school, when his talent as a dog trainer generated attention and invitations to perform at major sports shows and other events. He appeared with his beloved Chesapeake Bay retriever, Jack Pine, and other canines at top venues across the country, including Madison Square Garden.
He later served in the U.S. Air Force, and while stationed in Landsberg, Germany, was named the base’s entertainment director.
In 1955, his father sought his son’s assistance to produce a new show in Spokane, thus launching a long and successful career. At one time, the company produced as many as 26 shows across the United States and Canada. In 1981, the company expanded and opened a second office in Tacoma to produce shows in the newly-opened Tacoma Dome.
Former Tacoma Dome General Manager Mike Gebauer, who became acquainted with the father-son production team in the 1960s while managing an event venue in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, recalled his years of working with Bob O’Loughlin Sr.
“I know many people will share this view, but Bob was the finest gentleman I’ve ever met. His word was as good as gold. You go to bat for a person like that,” said Gebauer. “We could have worked together solely on a handshake, but we had to sign documents as a formality.”
Bob is survived by children Bob O’Loughlin Jr., Tacoma, Wash.; Mary Ann (O’Loughlin) Kurek, New Bern, N.C.; Bill O’Loughlin, Yamhill, Ore.; Terrence O’Loughlin, Portland, Ore.; Peter O’Loughlin, Portland, Ore., and 13 grandchildren.
His wife of 49 years, Regina Elizabeth (Winter) O’Loughlin, passed away in February 2006.
Plans for a life celebration in September are pending.