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Industry Legend John D. “Jack” O’Connell Passes Away


Houston, TX — John D. “Jack” O’Connell, chair emeritus for the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GHCVB) since 1988, passed away this morning. O’Connell, who was inducted into the Convention Industry Council (CIC) Hall of Leaders in 1995, began his career in the trade show industry in 1954 at the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. O’Connell served as the first director of sales for McCormick Place when it opened in 1960.

“Jack’s legacy is the many new innovations and procedures he developed and the way he conducted business,” said Darlene Gudea, president, Trade Show Executive Media Group. “He took a stand on controversial issues with skillful diplomacy and unique insights. He was instrumental in reducing move-in times for trade shows from weeks to days to help McCormick Place expand the number of shows in the building.”

Later, he moved on to help form what is now the GHCVB. “Jack lead the effort to put Houston on the national stage,” said Greg Ortale, president and CEO, GHCVB. “Without him and a handful of others, there would be no GHCVB. In the early days, he even wrote personal checks to make it happen.” O’Connell served as senior vice president and COO of the bureau for eight years.

“Jack was a leader in the convention industry for many years and helped shape the industry as it is today,” said Richard Simon, president and CEO, United Service Companies. “More than that, he was a friend to all. In the 40 years I have know Jack, I know of no one — even his competitors — that did not like and respect him.”

In addition, he served as president of United Exposition Service Company, which was acquired by Global Experience Specialists (GES) in 1993. He also served as chairman for the executive advisory board of GES.

“Jack was a giant in our industry,” said Paul Dykstra, chairman, president and CEO, Viad Corp., parent company of GES. “His relationships went back to the roots of trade shows and conventions. He drove change in the way we do business from technology and show operations to the demographics of exhibitors and show organizers. Although he enjoyed a fascinating and highly successful career, he was one of the most personable and humble men I have ever met. He truly made a difference to me and to our industry, and we will miss him greatly.”

Gudea added: “He was the kind of leader that people gravitated to and wanted to follow. His accomplishments are perhaps best chronicled in the video created when he was inducted into the CIC’s Hall of Leaders in 1995 and on permanent display in the Washington, DC Convention Center (view the video at: He will be deeply missed, but his contributions and the lessons he taught us will live on forever.”

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 5, at St. Michael Catholic Church in Houston.

TSE will provide more details as they become available.

Reach Greg at (713) 437-5201 or; Paul at (602) 207-1000 or; Richard at (312) 922-8558 or; Darlene at (760)630-9111 or

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