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County Fair’s Farley Prepares for Farewell

The county fair kicks off Wednesday with great concerts (Huey Lewis!), competitions and, of course, the rides.

Jim Farley (Photo Courtesy County of Marin)
Jim Farley (Photo Courtesy County of Marin)
As Jim Farley winds down his long career with the County of Marin government by hosting the 73rd Marin County Fair this week, several of the nation’s most influential fairs experts say it’s time to fully appreciate the trend-setting reputation of the Marin fair.

“I don’t think the people of Marin know how influential their fair has been or fully appreciate the leadership they have had with Jim,” said Stephen Chambers, director of the Western Fairs Association. “His tenure has resulted in countless awards within our industry and positive recognition for Marin, particularly with community outreach with schools and other organizations. His fair’s ability to integrate with the community is really something.”

Within the industry, the fair’s distinction is global. Marla Calico, Chief Operating Officer the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, called the Marin fair’s innovative programming and reputation for excellence “unparalleled.”

“Jim’s ability to envision trends and create programming each year to reflect that is amazing,” Calico said. “He is wonderfully adept at bringing together the diverse aspects of the community stakeholders in such a way as to make the annual event a true celebration of the entire county.”

Nearly 40 years after his first official involvement with the County – as a 20-year-old usher at Marin Center – Farley is overseeing the fair for the final time July 2-6. His last day on the job as County Director of Cultural and Visitor Services will be July 31.

Farley, who has led Cultural and Visitor Services since January 2004, said the “Magic of Lucasfilm” exhibit in 1988 is really what brought the Marin County Fair to a new level. With George Lucas’ Star Wars memorabilia, costumes and models on display publicly for the first time, attendance shot up and people came from all over the world.

“I think we elevated what a county fair can be,” Farley said. “In a certain sense, that was a huge turning point and we never looked back.”

Starting about 20 years ago, Farley and his fair staff emphasized multimedia displays so that the visiting public could interact with technology, and that idea has been replicated at fairs all over the United States. Since 2008, when the fair theme was “The Greenest County Fair on Earth,” sustainability has been a primary focus and ongoing emphasis, and these green practices have been widely adopted.

Chambers estimates that he has seen more fairs in the western United States and Canada over the past 30 years than anyone. He said just about every fair manager knows the name Jim Farley and implements best practices that originated at the Marin County Fair.

“Jim has also taken the time to teach others how to do the job effectively and deal with the operational realities,” Chambers said. “His work is copied, replicated, stolen, whatever word you want to use.” Calico added: “Jim has unselfishly shared his knowledge and experiences with other fair leaders from across this continent, which undoubtedly has led to the betterment of each event.”

It was December 1974 when Farley, who has spent almost his entire life living in Marin, made his debut as a head usher for performances at Marin Center, Marin’s premiere venue for live entertainment.  He has had upwards of eight job titles with the County as he climbed the ladder. Supervisor Kate Sears, the current President of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, said the 6-foot-4 Farley stands head and shoulders above the crowd because of his many years of stewardship of the Marin Center and Marin County Fair.

“Jim has been a calm presence with an uncanny knack for being at the right place amid the excitement of the fair, attending to the unexpected and exuberant in five full days of family fun,” Sears said. “From culture to conversation, entertainment to awakened action, Jim has made Marin Center a mecca of community engagement, fun and learning. Our best farewell to Jim Farley is for all of us to attend the 2014 Marin County Fair and make it a both a great sendoff party and the Happiest Fair on Earth.”

The County plans to introduce the new Director of Cultural and Visitor Services after the conclusion of the fair.

--Information supplied by Marin County



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