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PAUL LAING, 58, MANAGER OF ERIE COUNTY FAIR, DIES

Paul C. Laing, 58, secretary of the Erie County Agricultural Society and general manager of its Erie County Fair & Expo, died Tuesday (Dec. 12, 1990) in Our Lady of Victory Hospital, Lackawanna, after being stricken in his Fairgrounds office.

His death came the day before the Agricultural Society's 1990 annual meeting and less than two weeks after he was elected president of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, an organization with 4,000 members on three continents.

Laing's death put a pall over the society's annual meeting and reception, but both will be held, said Jean Coffey, his longtime aide.

In January, Laing suffered a heart attack, but after slimming down and resting for several months, he returned to his fair duties in the spring.

Lloyd Lamb, the Agricultural Society president who took over Laing's duties during his convalescence, said: "It is most difficult to express what a great fair manager Paul Laing was. He did a great deal for the Erie County Fair and the entire fair industry. We have suffered a great loss, and I am among many who have lost a friend."

Laing's association with the fair began during his youth, when he showed cattle there. He was appointed a director of the Agricultural Society in 1973 and named general manager of the fair in 1977.

During his fair service, he saw its income expand from $750,000 to nearly $4 million and, in a recent interview, said it might reach $11 million in 1991.

A member of the family that operates a feed mill in Eden, Laing always sought innovations but insisted that the fair retain its basic agricultural emphasis. An early innovation was the formation of the Spirit of Youth, a song and dance troupe consisting of high school students from throughout Erie County. Another was bringing in "big bands" for older fairgoers.

Last summer, he saw another idea bear fruit with the opening of the society's new Agri-Center, a 74,000-square-foot, $3 million, year-round exhibition hall and convention center for the South Towns. And earlier this month, the Agricultural Society took over the license and operation of the Buffalo Raceway.

The profits from those additions are expected to go back into the fair and the Fairgrounds, Laing said last week.

Laing also is credited with describing the Erie County Fair as "America's Country Fair."

Year after year, under Laing's guidance, the fair set new attendance records either for individual days or the 10-day span. The peak was reached in 1989, when 751,409 attended.

Laing was born in Eden and graduated from Eden Central School in 1950. In 1953, after graduating from Alfred State Agricultural & Technical College with a specialty in agricultural business, he joined Laing-Gro, the family feed and farm supply business, and retained an interest until his death.

His leadership of the International Fair unit was preceded by terms as a director and treasurer. In 1983, his fellow fair managers in the state designated him as Fair Manager of the Year and three years later elected him president. In Eden, he headed the Chamber of Commerce and was a member of the Eden Volunteer Fire Company for 36 years.

Survivors include his wife, the former Joyce Greeley; a son, Paul C. Jr.; three daughters, KathyFischer of Glastonbury, Conn., Linda Hock of Hamburg and Brenda Schreiner; two brothers, David and Richard, and five grandchildren.

A funeral service will be conducted at 1 p.m. Friday in Eden United Methodist Church, 2820 E. Church St., Eden. Burial will be in Evergreen Cemetery, Eden.

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