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

Rob O’Rourke, 54, vice president of RJO Produce Marketing, died July 12 after a five-year battle with prostate cancer. Mr. O’Rourke spent nearly 40 years working in procurement, inspection, and sales and marketing of all major produce categories.Rob-ORourke

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

Mr. O’Rourke worked for Produce West, Sterling Oak and started RJO Produce Marketing in 1993 with his brother, John. In 2004, Mr. 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.

He reunited with RJO in 2007 as vice president of business development, a role in which he developed, and led many cutting-edge initiatives.

With a reputation for being forward-thinking and innovative, Mr. 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 would constantly challenge us to think differently yet he insisted we never compromised our core values,” said Fred Valentino, East Coast operations director for RJO.

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

John O’Rourke, RJO president, said, “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.”

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

Mr. 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.

He is survived by his wife, Monica; children Katie, Megan, Ryan and Kevin; parents Ron and Kathi; brothers, Rick, Michael and John; and many in-laws, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts and cousins. Remembrances may be sent to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fresno, 149 N. Fulton Street, Fresno, CA 93701 or the Ag One Foundation at 2910 East Barstow MS OF 115, Fresno, CA 93740 to establish an RJO scholarship in Rob’s honor.