News and Updates

Special Message from CEIR CEO Cathy Breden on the Passing of ESCA Past President Don Vaughn

Don Vaughn passed away last week. For those who did not know Don, he was an industry legend, an icon of integrity, a servant leader, and an all-around good person. While you may not realize it, his work in the exhibitions industry leaves a legacy that touches us all. I hope you will take a moment to honor him by reading this testament to a man who made a difference.

Don had a well-rounded career having been in executive roles with the National Association of Home Builders, the Astrodome Astrohall Stadium Corporation, Freeman, the Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Billcom Exhibitions, Vaughn, Ducate and Associates, The Augusta Group, CMAC.

Anything Don said he was going to do, he did. He threw himself in 100%. He believed in the power of exhibitions and he was agnostic when it came to the associations he served (CEIR, EDPA, ESCA, HCEA, IAVM, IAEE, PCMA, MPI). IAEE recognized him with its highest level of recognition in 1981 with the William Hunt Eisenmann Award (Pinnacle Award), and he was also recognized by the Experiential Designers and Producers Association with the Hazel Hayes Award, Healthcare Convention and Exhibitions Association with the Distinguished Service Award, the Exhibition Services and Contractors Association with the Distinguished Service Award and Lifetime Achievement Award in These are the highest-level awards for these associations.

Don was one of the founders of what is now the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (initially formed as the Trade Show Bureau) and this is how I came to know him. The Trade Show Bureau was initially created to promote the importance of the exhibitions industry to the U.S. economy, which led to the CEIR Census and CEIR Index which measures the performance of the business-to-business exhibitions industry. The CEIR Index also provides economic impact information for advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C. Over the past two years, CEIR has had many interviews with major news outlets in the U.S., Europe and Asia on the impact of COVID to the conventions and exhibitions industry. Don’s work in the beginning, along with others, has elevated the importance of exhibitions on jobs, industries and commerce.

“Don Vaughn was an early advocate of the need to promote the use of exhibitions to bring products to market. As a gifted speaker he seized opportunities throughout his storied career to deliver that message to groups both within and outside the industry,” said Doug Ducate, former CEIR CEO. “He had a unique career in the industry first as an exhibition organizer, then a major facility manager and finally an executive with the largest general service contractor in the industry. That combination enabled him to see situations from various points of view and find balanced solutions to industry issues. He was a great friend, and I will miss him.”

He believed strongly in the need for an umbrella organization and became involved in the Convention Liaison Council, now known as the Events Industry Council. During his time as chair (1985-1986), the organization introduced both the Certified Meeting Professional designation and the Hall of Leaders program. It was fitting that he was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Leaders in 1997. Again, the organization’s highest-level award, but this award is the pinnacle of all the pinnacles!

If you had met Don after 1997, you would not have known he had received all these awards and accolades. He was a humble man. He lived to serve the industry he loved. To learn more about Don and his contributions, watch this Hall of Leaders video.

A Celebration of Life will be held at 3:00 p.m., Saturday, January 29, at the First Presbyterian Grapevine with a reception following at the Grapevine Marriott. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations to the Don Vaughn Memorial Fund, CEIR Foundation, 12700 Park Central Drive, Ste 308, Dallas, TX, 75251 or via the CEIR Foundation website. Donations in Don’s memory may also be made to the First Presbyterian Church Grapevine, 1002 North Park Blvd., Grapevine, TX 76051.

Bravo, Don, what a testament to a life well-lived!