George Clary, a Prosser rancher and lifelong advocate and board member for the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo, died Friday morning at home.
The 72-year-old had cancer, said his wife, Billie. He died surrounded by family and loved ones, as were his wishes. A memorial service is being planned at the fairgrounds in Kennewick the weekend of July 9, but details are not yet final.
Clary grew up around horses and spent much of his youth riding in the Horse Heaven Hills. His ties to the fair also started then and blossomed into a decades-long involvement that made him a well-known figure in the community. He had roped in generations of Clarys.
“It was just part of his life,” Billie Clary said.
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George Clary’s parents were among the first in the family to have a presence at the Benton County Fairgrounds. His father rode in rodeos and was involved in the county’s mounted sheriff’s posse. George Clary joined the junior posse, which led to the first 4-H horse club in the county.
He started showing steers, lambs and pigs before he was in high school, and he took home the grand champion prize for a steer in a FFA show when he was 18. He also earned several showmanship awards.
George Clary joined the fair board in 1988. He was mentored by former board president Bill Beck, a man Clary said he admired for his work in the 1990s to restore the fair to financial health after a crisis forced county commissioners to intervene.
When it was George Clary’s turn to lead the fair board as president in 2003, he was part of the tense negotiations between the fair board and Benton County commissioners on a maintenance contract for the fairgrounds.
He also served for about a decade on the state’s fair association, earning a lifetime achievement award last year.
Fair board president Brian Goulet said George Clary had fought cancer for at least a year, but he didn’t let it affect his work with the fair. He was at last summer’s fair, as he had been for decades, and attended meetings and functions until only a few weeks ago, when he handed in his resignation.
“I presented it to the board and then called him up and said, ‘no disrespect George, but we’d like to keep you on as an honorary member,’ ” Goulet told the Herald. “He was pretty excited about that.”
But the fair was as much about family as it was about community service. Billie Clary and her daughter Jackie Steele served as beef superintendents over the years. Steele and her three siblings, Shawn, Ryan and Tracy, all showed animals at the fair as kids, as have their children.
“He loved doing it. He loved the kids,” Billie Clary said.