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In memoriam: Saying goodbye to Cliff Cornhall

Cliff Cornhall, 72, the camping buyer for Big 5 Sporting Goods for 38 years until his retirement in 2006, died of an apparent heart attack on April 15, shortly after returning from an early morning walk on the beach near his Huntington Beach, Calif., home.


Cliff Cornhall, 72, the camping buyer for Big 5 Sporting Goods for 38 years until his retirement in 2006, died of an apparent heart attack on April 15, shortly after returning from an early morning walk on the beach near his Huntington Beach, Calif., home.

Larry Harrison, a close friend of Cornhall, shared the following with SNEWS® in an email:

Cliff did more to bring people into the wilderness than half of the retail chains in the country. His belief, that product meet two criteria, was famous: Product had to be affordable and it had to work. Cliff was a giant among outdoor and camping buyers. He loved what he did and was an ardent evangelist for wilderness. Cliff viewed affordability as the best way to get people outdoors.

For many years my sales agency, Earth Games, put on an event called the “University of Fun;” it was kind of a precursor to Outdoor University. The intent was to excite and educate. Surf shop staff we sold to had to learn how to rock climb. Outdoor and ski shop employees were taught to windsurf. At the end of the day, we had educational seminars. In the lakeside campground setting that we held the event at, Cliff became an integral part of our team by always pitching in to be Head Chef. He presided over huge quantities of pancakes in the morning and shark and tri-tip for the festive dinners. Cliff was, well, a large man. The specialty stores that comprised the majority of attendees were lithe and lean and young. Cliff also worked for what the outdoor, ski and surf folks thought was the big, bad wolf: Big 5 Sporting Goods. By the end of the event each year, I would be regaled with stories of how much everyone liked the ‘big guy who cooked.’ By stuffing everyone full of food and stories, Cliff became immune to the perceptions of girth, age and employment that follow us all. Just as he was my favorite, he became everyone’s who attended the University of Fun. As big as he was, though, Cliff was quite the athlete. He surfed, skied, hiked, fished, played volleyball, golfed and even had a black belt in karate. I saw him just recently and he swore he would be down soon to make me go surfing with him at San Onofre. I will miss that date immensely.

–SNEWS® Editors