Michael A. Darby passed away Jan. 26 at age 62. Those working the Atlanta tradeshow scene, especially his extended family at Blue Sky Exhibits, will never forget the enthusiastic, passionate and long-haired 2014 Randy Smith Memorial Golf Classic recipient.
In addition to his five-year role as project manager and estimator at Blue Sky Exhibits, Darby was considered a “legend” by company Co-Founder and CEO Don Keller for his dedication to the tradeshow industry since high school. Darby came up at several exhibit houses, including Design South, IDEAS, MC2 and Pico North America.
His friend of 11 years, Chris Dorman worked with Darby at Pico. She left the company before its closure for her current position at Blue Sky Exhibits as the graphics manager/account manager.
When Pico closed its Atlanta branch in March 2010, Darby despaired. Dorman remembers his reaction well.
“Darby was driving home from his last day [at Pico], and he said, ‘God, I guess it’s all in your hands now’,” she explained.
Around this same time, Keller spoke for the first time to the man he respected and considered a friend, and boy, did Darby make an interesting impression. In one phone call, Keller and Blue Sky’s other Co-Founder and COO Tim Kelley hired Darby on the spot.
“He was the first and only employee I hired without meeting him in person. I never did that before,” Keller explained. “He called me literally the day he was leaving [Pico]. I took a chance, and he was a blessing as an employee.”
With Darby and Dorman working together again, it was like old times. Dorman remembered being amused by Darby’s unique sense of humor. When he tapped his foot to a beat only he knew while jamming to a song over his earbuds, Dorman would jokingly throw paper balls at him from across the office to get his attention. Darby knew how to have fun, but he worked even harder.
Three years in a row, Darby perfectly handled exhibit set-up for a Blue Sky client, according to Kelley.
“He did an exemplary job with [Cryolife],” Kelley added. “We had perfect tradeshows. When I went, I never had to worry about anything. The AV would work and the graphics would be perfect. Michael made clients’ lives easier.”
Darby was also the resident expert on ExhibitForce to the point where the manufacturer asked for his insights about its own cloud-based event and project management software, according to Keller.
“When I first hired him, we implemented [ExhibitForce]. He didn’t like it, and he was vocal about how he felt. I remember saying ‘This is not going away.’ Literally, he embraced the software program and became the point person on it. Darby knew about new tools, how to refine it and how it could best be used,” Keller added.
After tackling, slaying and becoming the victor of ExhibitForce, Darby spent a lot of time teaching his co-workers about the program. Dorman added that the templates Darby created with ExhibitForce were often used by the Blue Sky Exhibits team.
Darby loved his job at Blue Sky so much that even as his small cell lung cancer worsened, he wanted to continue working.
“When he was in the hospital bed, [Darby] said – ‘I’m going to get on the computer.’ We told him to rest. He just loved doing it. He didn’t want to see anyone inconvenienced,” explained Kelley.
Darby wanted to support his team like he knew they always supported him. Nicknamed “Darbio,” a play on “Fabio,” Darby knew cancer meant cutting his near waist-length dark blond hair.
To lift his spirits, Blue Sky Exhibits organized a party where he was surrounded by family, friends and co-workers. They watched as his teenage son, Cameron, cut his hair, so it could be donated to the charity Locks of Love.
Additionally, Darby was an avid outdoorsman, often going hiking or camping with his son, friends and co-workers. This past February, his co-workers organized a hike in his honor.
“[Michael] left an imprint on us for the rest of our lives,” said Keller.
Darby’s funeral took place Feb. 4 in Austell, Ga. He is survived by his wife, Sharon; son, Cameron; daughter, Kristen; and extended family.
In lieu of flowers, the Darby family asks that donations be made to Cameron Darby’s college fund.