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Rob O’Rourke, longtime produce industry leader, dies at 54

Rob O’Rourke, Vice President of RJO Produce Marketing, passed away at the age of 54 on Thursday, July 12th, after a 5-year battle with prostate cancer. Throughout his career, O’Rourke spent nearly 40 years working in procurement, inspection, and sales and marketing of all major produce categories.

O’Rourke's career began in 1979 when, at age 16, a neighbor asked him drive to Bakersfield to pick up a box of grapes. That trip was the beginning of a passionate lifelong career in the produce industry.

O’Rourke worked for Produce West, Sterling Oak, and started RJO Produce Marketing in 1993 with his brother, John. In 2004, O’Rourke left RJO to become the Vice President of Produce and Floral for Topco Associates, a multi-billion dollar grocery co-op serving 54 retail members throughout the country.

“We will honor Rob’s legacy of high standards of professionalism and customer service. Those are things we worked hard to establish, and we will most assuredly uphold those going forward,” noted John O’Rourke, RJO President, in an obituary release the evening of the 12th.

O’Rourke later reunited with RJO in 2007 as Vice President of Business Development, a role in which he developed and led many cutting-edge initiatives.

“Rob would constantly challenge us to think differently, yet he insisted we never compromised our core values,” shared Fred Valentino, East Coast Operations Director for RJO.

With a reputation for being forward-thinking and innovative, O’Rourke was well known throughout the produce and retail industries. Past and present employees have commented on the incredible influence and culture at RJO.

“Rob understood the importance and value of ‘the people' in every aspect of our business,” said Scott Zeier of RJO.

Mike Spinazzola of Subway echoed Zeier’s sentiment.

“Rob had a unique ability to assess a situation from all sides, understand the many dynamics, and offer clear positive solutions for all parties,” said Spinazzola.

O’Rourke earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from California State University, Fresno. He was passionately involved with and supported Catholic Charities, Boys Scouts of America, Knights of Columbus, Fresno State University, San Joaquin Country Club and served on the membership committee for the Produce Marketing Association.

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