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'It was a time of celebration' | CEO Bo Roberts reflects on the 40th anniversary of the 1982 World’s Fair

The final curtain closed on the World’s Fair on October 31st, 1982. Bo Roberts, CEO and president, remembers the international exposition four decades later.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In 1982, the World’s Fair brought more than 11 million people from across the globe to Knoxville, Tennessee. Bo Roberts had a front-row seat as the CEO and president of the international exposition.

“I remember how quickly those 184 days went, that summer and fall. But I guess these 40 years have gone by quickly, too,” said Bo Roberts. “It was just a joy, a time of celebration and thankfulness, thankful for all the people who had come together, worked together, stayed together during some challenging times, and then made it happen.”

The 1982 World’s Fair was more than a six-month-long event. It took years of planning.

“We went through three presidents. We started with President Ford, we went through with President Carter, who took the study, and then invited the world to come. And then, in the middle of it, this guy named Reagan, President Reagan came in,” said Roberts.

But the highlight for Roberts came years before opening day in New York City.

“We closed the loan to secure the financing to make the fair feasible and possible. And it was a loan that 40 banks across the country were involved in,” said Roberts. “They were taking a chance that, one, the fair would even happen. This is October of '79 — still three years out. And they also took a chance the returns would be enough to pay off the loan. And every single one of them was paid off.”

Knoxville hosted more than 20 nations including China during the 1982 World’s Fair and surpassed previous expositions with record attendance.

“Seeing their faces of enjoyment as they went around the exhibits and had experiences probably none of them, or most of them, thought they would ever have. That, to me, measured success,” said Roberts. “We brought the first real fair to the Southeast and had great visitation.”

Roberts recently published a book called, “Forever Young.”

“70% of it is about the World's Fair and Knoxville,” said Roberts. “It was just kind of fun going back and reliving it.”

Roberts lives in Nashville but research for the book brought him back to downtown Knoxville.

“We were walking back to the hotel and there were all kinds of activity on Market Square and in downtown, and it's just fun to see,” said Roberts. “Maybe I had a little piece of making that happen. And then, if I didn't, that's alright. I'm just glad to see it happen.”

Bo Roberts' book “Forever Young” is available in local bookstores including Union Avenue Books as well as online.

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