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The loss of a local icon: Longtime exhibition manager David Coombes remembered for passion, dedication

WINDSOR, N.S. — David and his granddaughter Sydney have arrived in Amman, the capital of Jordan.

He insists on stopping at a small, ‘hole-in-the-wall’ restaurant with exotic foods and smells, despite her protests. The restaurant has no signage, no indication of what’s even inside.

She gets a piece of bread — he orders the special.

For Lisa Hines, David Coombes’ daughter and Sydney’s mother, this moment highlights what her dad was all about; constantly learning, trying new things and exploring new cultures and experiences.

Coombes passed away on March 2 at the Hants Community Hospital following a battle with cancer.

The memorial service was held March 8, with family and friends gathering to remember the man that meant so much to them.

For Hines, her dad was a great influence on her and her children.

“There was no time for any princess stuff with us, we were raised to work, to get our hands dirty,” Hines said.

“My mom tried to sort of impose some of the lady stuff on us, but dad didn’t have any time for that. He was a little ahead of his time in terms of how to raise a girl, I think. We were very fortunate.”

Hines said Coombes was always reliable. No matter what the problem was, he would help out in some way.

About Coombes

Coombes grew up on his father’s farm at Castle Frederick in Falmouth. He left high school early to work on the farm for a short while to figure out what he wanted to do.

He eventually enrolled in the agriculture field at MacDonald College at McGill, in Montreal. He married his wife Frances prior to completing his degree. The young family returned to Nova Scotia after Coombes completed his degree.

Shortly after that he became the general manager of the Hants County Exhibition in 1965 — a role he would continue to hold for more than 50 years.

“It meant everything to him,” Hines said. “He was a fair manager for almost his entire career.”

Coombes managed the Hants County Exhibition and the Atlantic Winter Fair. He also brought the DuMaurier Cup international show jumping to Halifax and managed the N.S. Provincial Exhibition for many years.

“It was important to him that the legacy continue, and he was a very creative thinker and a forward-looking person, he was very interested in current events,” she said. “Even with stuff like 3D printing, he was completely fascinated by it. He was so interested in change and meeting change.”

That came through during the exhibitions. Each year Coombes strived to bring something new and exciting to show visitors – whether it was a dinosaur named cuddles or goat yoga.

Coombes was also the manager during the 250th Hants County Exhibition, the longest-running agricultural exhibition in North America.

Remaining relevant

Hines said her dad was very cognizant of the changing times and wanted to make sure the exhibition remained relevant in a changing world.

“People have so many options for their entertainment dollar, so you have to be very creative,” she said. “But you also have to meet your budget.”

As interim director, Hines says she understands that she has really big shoes to fill.

“He was a perfectionist, he set very high standards for himself and for others to, but in saying that, he understood failure and was a great believer that if you don’t try you’ll never know,” she said. “He was brave, he had courage to give things a shot.”

Coombes won various awards during his career, including National Fair Manager of the Year and was inducted into the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions Roll of Honour.

But beyond the exhibition, Coombes was a man that loved his family, loved travel, loved food and cared deeply about his community.

“He loved to be outdoors, cutting brush and having a fire,” she said. “The giant parking lot at the exhibition grounds, Dad usually mowed that, we even made hay out of it until a few years ago.”

“He always said that he loved sitting on the tractor and always said he did his best thinking when he was on the tractor.”

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