Foothills resident takes lead reins of Stampede

Calgary: Bob Thompson new president of Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 27, 2013 10:28 am

Newly appointed Calgary Stampede president Bob Thompson opens the Rangeland Derby tarp auction on March 21 in Calgary.
Newly appointed Calgary Stampede president Bob Thompson opens the Rangeland Derby tarp auction on March 21 in Calgary.
Bruce Campbell/OWW

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The new president of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth had his first Calgary Stampede experience the same way most of his friends did when he grew up in the Okotoks area.

Head north to Calgary and enjoy some good old family fun — and maybe play Whackamole and take a ride on the Zipper.

“We were like a lot of families in the Okotoks area, we would make our annual pilgrimage to take in the Calgary Stampede,” said Bob Thompson, who lives west of Okotoks. “As a young child I would go to the midway and the rodeo and chuckwagon races every year.

“It was a family event.”

Thompson has been associated with the Stampede for 25 years, the last 14 as a member of the executive. He began his two-year term as president at the board’s March 19 meeting.

Thompson fell in love with Calgary’s biggest party and became a volunteer approximately 25 years ago. He learned the ropes working on the rodeo and chuckwagon committees.

“My greatest memories with the wagon races is for 10 years I would saddle up and organize the wagons just prior to them coming onto the track for the races,” Thompson said. “It was quite a thrill to be that close to the action and with all those great drivers.”

He would later become the Stampede’s rodeo chairman.

The 52-year-old Thompson grew up in and around Okotoks. As well as being the Stampede president he is the CEO of Brownstone Asset Management in Calgary. He is a graduate of Arizona State University and has a master’s degree from a university in Switzerland.

Thompson may now be facing the toughest course of his life — Calgary Stampede 101. He faces the challenge of being the first president after the highly successful Calgary Stampede centennial in 2012.

“The centennial was a wonderful celebration of our last 100 years,” Thompson said. “We are back to the hard work of executing a very well defined strategic plan to the Calgary Stampede which is to develop a year-round world class gathering place. We anticipate to energize our park so that 365 days a year there will be a host of activities going on.

“It is an exciting change for me to take the reins of the Calgary Stampede in year one of its next 100 years.”

He said some of the plans include building a youth campus on site, revitalizing 20 acres of river frontage, build a spectacular Indian Village and develop a retail presence north of the park.

“We have a lot of irons in the fire and a lot of excitement in how we kick off for the next 100 years,” he said.

Those irons will include bringing a new perspective to the Calgary Stampede while maintaining its proud history.

“Our challenges include maintaining our relevancy to the changing face of the public,” he said. “We know we have a changing city and a changing country. The Calgary Stampede has to be current in its thinking to ensure it stays relevant to all the people who enjoy our show.”

He is ready for the challenges awaiting him.

Thompson has been learning every day for the past quarter century and good president always has a few good men and women working with him.

“I have the support of a fantastic and diverse set of board members and a really strong staff,” he said. “When you are surrounded by that level talent it is great support to guide you through the challenges and opportunities that come with the job.”

The most important person in his life, his wife of 30 years, Gretchen, has ties going back to founding days of the Calgary Stampede.

“Her great-grandfather, A.E. Cross, was one of the founders of the Calgary Stampede,” Thompson said. “It helps me reflect back on the original dream of the Stampede.”

A.E. Cross was one of the Big Four who helped finance and start the Stampede. The other members of the Big Four were Pat Burns, George Lane and Archie McLean.

He added it reminds him of the important role agriculture and ranching has played with the Calgary Stampede and southern Alberta.

Thompson was off to a good start in his first public appearance as president of the Calgary Stampede at the Rangeland Derby tarp auction on March 21. He gave a rousing introduction and the tarps were sold for just over $3.6 million, the third-largest total in its history.

“I thought what was particularly gratifying is to take a look at the number of names of young drivers who have come from established wagon racing families,” he said. “They are now taking over the reins and that gives me great comfort in regards to the future of wagon racing at the Calgary Stampede.”


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