Calgary

'Visionary' Calgary Stampede CEO Warren Connell has died

Calgary Stampede CEO Warren Connell, described as a "visionary leader and ardent community builder," has died, the organization says.

Connell joined Stampede in 1984 and became CEO in 2015

Warren Connell joined the Calgary Stampede in 1984 and worked his way up to become CEO in 2015. (Calgary Stampede)

Calgary Stampede CEO Warren Connell, described as a "visionary leader and ardent community builder," has died, the organization says.

"It is with profound sadness and heartbreak that we must share the passing of the Calgary Stampede's CEO, Warren Connell. Warren was beloved by the Stampede family and will be very sadly missed," the Stampede said in a statement issued Monday.

Connell joined the Stampede in 1984 and worked his way up to become CEO in 2015.

"During his time as CEO, Warren worked tirelessly towards the vision of creating a world-class, year-round gathering place for the community. This included setting the direction for the final fulfilment of the Stampede's 20-year master plan, a bold and unprecedented accomplishment," the organization wrote.

"Warren will be remembered as a visionary leader and ardent community builder. His recognition of the community will be a legacy that lives on for generations to come."

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he knew Connell was ill but that, "he didn't expect this to come so quickly."

"I'm going to miss him a lot, and I think the whole city will ... Warren was an incredible role model."

Nenshi says of Connell that, "He worked unbelievably hard, he had great ideas, He was always willing to innovate and try new things with the Stampede.

"He never was interested in being in public. The Stampede is a volunteer-driven organization, and he wanted to make sure that the volunteers were the ones who were out front."

He said he will miss giving his friend hugs.

"My favourite thing was when Warren did something awesome — which was often — I would give him a big hug and it made him so uncomfortable and it made me so happy because I felt like not enough people hugged this guy for all the great things he did. He was truly champion of Calgary, not just of the Stampede, but everything he did was to make the city better."

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney wrote on Twitter, "Warren personified the community spirit of Calgary, and truly loved the western heritage celebrated by Stampede."

"Sincere condolences to his family [and] many friends."

Others in Calgary also paid tribute to Connell on Twitter.

Ward Sutherland, city councillor for Ward 1, described Connell's death as a "huge loss."

"Absolutely sad day with the passing of CEO Warren Connell this morning," wrote Sutherland.

"A [huge] loss for the Stampede organization. My sincere condolences to Warren's family. It was a great honour to call him a friend. You will be missed." 

Jeff Davison, Ward 6 councillor, wrote, "My heart is broken by the news."

"Warren was an incredible man with a deep-rooted passion for all things Calgary. He was someone I looked up to and have the deepest respect for."

Speaking for Mary Moran, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, the agency tweeted: "We extend our heartfelt sympathies to Warren Connell's family and the entire @Stampede family at his passing."

"A final tip of the cowboy hat to a true gentleman and a great Calgarian!"

Dana Peers, who is president and chairman of the board, will continue to supervise and direct the Stampede's executive management team.

The Calgary Stampede didn't take place this summer for the first time in almost a century because of public health restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Calgary Stampede didn't say the cause of death for Connell.

With files from Dave Will.

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