'Expo Grandpa' who visited 16 world fairs charmed by Expo 2020 Dubai

Ronald Skiles, 74, attended his first Expo in Seattle in 1962


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Ronald Skiles. Photo: Supplied
Ronald Skiles. Photo: Supplied

Published: Tue 23 Nov 2021, 9:57 AM

Last updated: Tue 23 Nov 2021, 12:22 PM

Most Expo 2020 Dubai visitors get thrown off by the sheer size and scale of the event. But Ronald Skiles does it like a pro.

Known as ‘Expo Grandpa’, Skiles, 74, is an Expo veteran who has been to 15 world expositions before touching down on Dubai. Skiles regularly attends both ‘big’ and ‘smaller’ Expos sanctioned by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) worldwide.

It all started in 1962 when Skiles, who hails from California in the United States, attended his first Expo in Seattle.

“I was 14, and every morning the news was doing a piece on the Seattle Expo. And I said, ‘that’s cool, all this educational stuff’, because I’ve always been a collector of information… and I was always interested in maps… and then they got this thing up in Seattle where all these countries are, and I told my parents ‘you’re taking me there this summer’.

“So, they took me up there, and I had the greatest time running around taking my pictures and reading all the displays – I had a tremendous time”, he said.

Skiles was unable to attend some of the subsequent Expos due to financial constraints. It would be another 12 years before he visited the next one, this time in 1974 in the US city of Spokane. But again, a lack of funding meant he had to skip the next Expo in Tennessee. That did not stop him from calling up one of the workers there to collect souvenirs for him.


But after New Orleans in 1984, Skiles got going and began travelling internationally, subsequently visiting 14 Expos. It is such a significant number that Skiles jokes he has to look at his list, printed on a business card, to remember them all.

Skiles does not rush to visit all the country pavilions; he takes his time, often spending weeks exploring one Expo. And, he is not only a collector of Expos, but also of unique souvenirs from each. He proudly displays several pins in his cap, having acquired about 1,000 over the years.

‘Expo Grandpa’ has only been at Expo 2020 Dubai for a couple of days, but what has already stood out for him is the UAE Pavilion. “That was fantastic. The sand – I had no idea the sand was so fine. And then they told me that out in the desert, it’s all different colours.” He is also fascinated by the layout of Expo 2020, its “artistic” almost floral shape, with the different Districts forming “petals”.

He does have a strategy for exploring, one that he suggests those who visit Expo 2020 multiple times can follow: “It’s the usual thing, I need to do one section and finish that section before I go to the next one. I started on one ‘petal’ [at Expo 2020], so I’m doing one ‘petal’ at a time… I started on Opportunity [District] then I’ll do the little green petal next, Sustainability, and then I’ll do the final petal [Mobility]. I figure it will be a few days for each petal.” But he is not in a rush – he will stay until late December.

Expo 2020’s theme of ‘Connecting Minds. Creating the Future’ has caught Stiles’ attention and the way Dubai as a city represents this: “In a way, Dubai has already accomplished it, because in Dubai… the street is a world tour.”

He is also interested in Expo 2020’s focus on environmental awareness: “I’m very moved by the implementation of the theme by the participants.”

Expo Grandpa wants to connect with Expo Grandma

Skiles is not the only one racking up Expos though. He is a big admirer of ‘Expo Grandma’, Tomiyo Yamada from Japan, someone he heard about two Expos ago. She, too, has been visiting multiple Expos. Skiles carries her picture, asking about her at each Expo he goes to, trying to find a friend: “I just want to meet her… I’ve got to find her. I’m her biggest fan!”

Skiles does not plan on stopping his travels anytime soon, even though he has already been to 76 countries and 16 Olympic Games: “I am planning on seeing all the countries in the world. But in the meantime, I will see them at Expos. I am booked until I’ll be 103!”

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