State Fair CEO takes job in Virginia

Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe
Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe

By Sarah Mansheim

Marlene Jolliffe-Pierson, CEO of the State Fair of West Virginia, has announced her resignation after a lengthy career with the organization. She has taken a new job as vice president of operations for Commonwealth Fairs and Events in Caroline County, VA. The company, a partner with the Virginia Farm Bureau, is the home of Meadow Event Park which houses the State Fair of Virginia.

Meadow Event park is known as the Birthplace of Secretariat, the thoroughbred horse-racing legend who was born in 1970, and three years later, won the Triple Crown.

Pierson-Jolliffe is set to begin her new job on Feb. 2. The mother of two high-schoolers, and wife of Senior Status Judge Frank Jolliffe, says the family will relocate to Caroline County, VA, north of Richmond. The State Fair of West Virginia has not announced her successor.

Pierson-Jolliffe’s long history with the State Fair of West Virginia has been particularly notable, as she has spent much of it leading the growth of the organization in size, year-round events and economic impact. Known locally as a tourism guru, Pierson-Jolliffe’s know-how and abilities will be greatly missed.

Greenbrier Valley CVB Executive Director Kara Dense says Pierson-Jolliffe, who serves on the CVB’s board of directors as its secretary and chair of marketing advisory committees, has mentored her throughout her own career. “She’s such a great role model, as a working mother and successful woman. She put me on my own career path.

“From a tourism standpoint, she and her team at the State Fair Events Center have done a great job of reaching out to some great groups year-round. I’ll miss her personally, and I’ll miss her for the amount of knowledge she has about the area and for her marketing strategies for the Greenbrier Valley,” says Dense.

Even as Pierson-Jolliffe prepares to leave the State Fair of West Virginia, she remains excited about next year’s WV State Fair, sharing that the fair will be adding a 10th day (the last Sunday) to the calendar, running August 14-23. The theme for the 2015 fair is “It feels like fun, it feels like fair.”

“Right now I’m really focusing on supporting my staff here. I’m trying to stay focused on what’s here as we plan for next year,” she says.

Pierson-Jolliffe says she’s excited to move on to the next phase of her career, unexpected as it may seem. “I wasn’t looking at all, and the opportunity came,” she says; the job was offered to her a couple of times, and she finally decided to “throw in her hat.”

“I’ve had a long career here (at the State Fair of West Virginia), and a good one. It was a tough decision. But, it’s a good opportunity to help build a great fair (in Virginia),” she says.

When asked what she will miss most about the State Fair of West Virginia, she sighs. “Oh gosh. That’s really hard. The community and the people, the guests, the vendors and board members – everyone. It’s been my heart and soul for 20 years now. But, I think I took the job in Virginia knowing it was only three hours away, and I’m going to stay involved here,” she says.

Pierson-Jolliffe says she plans to continue work as a fundraiser for the State Fair of West Virginia, particularly the organization’s scholarship fund.

“I’m not done here,” she says.