Mid-State Fair losing its longtime leader

Vivian Robertson
Vivian Robertson The Tribune

Paso Robles Event Center CEO Vivian Robertson announced her retirement Wednesday after 38 years with the California Mid-State Fair.

“After all of these years, my journey at the fair has been incredibly rewarding, and I will never forget all of the treasured friendships made along the way,” Robertson told The Tribune. “I have earned the golden stripes to retire, and it is time to open a new chapter. I just simply want to devote more time to my husband, our children and grandchildren, and to my elderly mom. The years have gone by way too fast.”

The event center is a year-round operation that runs the 12-day fair and is governed by the board of directors of the 16th District Agricultural Association.

Robertson, 59, is credited for numerous changes since her appointment to the CEO position in 2004. Among them are expanding the center’s year-round operation with annual horse shows and conferences, refurbishing buildings, overseeing new features at the fair and attracting big-name entertainers, and ensuring that the fair remains one of the state’s largest.

I just simply want to devote more time to my husband, our children and grandchildren, and to my elderly mom. The years have gone by way too fast.

Vivian Robertson

During her tenure, the district has been “fiscally solvent and highly successful each and every year,” board president Rob Boneso said in a statement.

This summer, unaudited results for the Mid-State Fair showed increases across the board this year over last. A total of 428,807 people attended the fair from July 22 through Aug. 2 — the best results since 2011. The fair’s concerts, rodeo and monster truck shows attracted 93,372 attendees — nearly 17,200 or 22.5 percent more than in 2014.

Robertson has also weathered some recent struggles, though, including state budget cuts, a massive storm cleanup in July just days before the fair opened, the cancellation of the fair’s kick-off cattle drive this year, cutbacks on outdoor irrigation during the state drought, and announcing the board’s decision this year to close the 4-H and FFA campground in 2016 and beyond because of alcohol management issues.

In a 2012 Tribune feature story on Robertson, her employees said she’s known for her leadership, dedication and personal approach.

Robertson has been passionate about the fair since she first showed cattle there at age 9.

She wound up working summers there as a livestock clerk during college and joined the staff full-time as an office secretary upon her graduation in 1980.

Aside from college stints working for Cal Poly and two veterinarians in Los Osos and Paso Robles, the event center is the only workplace she has ever known.

Over the years, she moved from office secretary to accounting officer and assistant manager before taking on the center’s top leadership role. She’s also held numerous supporting positions during the annual fair, including livestock secretary and later, livestock superintendent for 12 years.

“Vivian is leaving very proud of her accomplishments,” Boneso said in the statement. “The board will miss her leadership and knowledge but respects her decision to retire and enjoy her family and future endeavors.”

Tonya Strickland: 805-781-7858, @tstrickland