REMEMBERING BOB WALSH
Bob Walsh (1940-2017) was a great friend to Georgia, a tireless advocate who spent three decades helping Georgians in immeasurable ways. He died on January 23 after contracting a respiratory illness during a trip to Tbilisi, where he had been again working on behalf of georgia. Investor.ge spoke with a few of his close acquaintances and business partners about the man and his good works in Georgia.
Bob Walsh first came to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, on a trip to Moscow as one of the four organizers of the Goodwill Games.
Building Peace with the Soviet Union
Walsh started working in the region before the end of the Soviet Union. He directed the first Western aid to the people of Armenia following the devastating 1988 earthquake, and negotiated with USSR Minister of Sports Marat Gramov and Deputy Minister Alexander Kozlovsky to permit Lynne Cox's historic 1987 swim across the Bering Strait, according to media reports.
In addition, he partnered with Russian entrepreneurs to help fund the first commercial space flight in history, in 1991, the Seattle Times reported.
A Natural Promoter
Walsh was a natural promoter, according to people who knew him best. After his first trip to Tbilisi, he returned, again and again, helping Georgians find much-needed investments in the early years of independence, as well as helping those who needed medical care or education in the U.S..
Steve Rudman, who wrote "Who the Hell is Bob" about his work, said Walsh "immediately fell in love with Georgia" when he arrived in the country in 1991, despite the ongoing civil war and unrest.
"In the ensuing years, he led more than 60 investor groups to Georgia to introduce them to the economic possibilities in the post-Soviet republic. Ultimately, Bob and various investors wound up collaborating with Georgian officials on a variety of projects, including real estate development, dairy processing and pharmaceuticals," he said, adding that Walsh was also involved in humanitarian projects, like arranging life-saving operations and sponsoring students so they could study in the U.S..
Kristin Hayden represented Walsh in Tbilisi from 1999 to 2001. She remembers him as a visionary who sought to "bring further investment and support to Georgia."
"Bob was a true visonary who taught me that ordinary citizens can create extraordinary things. He always believed in his dreams and always went after them. He was bold and visonary and ahead of his time. He loved Georgia and wanted to share that passion with everyone he met and bring further investments and support to Georgia," she told Investor.ge.
"Bob's vision helped re-build Georgia and his humanitarian heart supported many Georgians over the years."
"Georgia's Great Friend"
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili honored Walsh for his support for Georgia in a statement following Walsh's death on January 23.
"I was extremely saddened to learn about the passing of Georgia's great friend, Bob Walsh, who has been a great supporter of this country, which he loved so dearly. He will be always remembered and missed here. Bob was among the pioneers who took interest in Georgia and invested themselves completely in the country's development. He even spent the last days of his life in Georgia. As one of the biggest supporters of Georgia in the U.S., Bob Walsh utilized his influence at many levels in Washington and beyond to further tie the strong bonds of partnership between our two countries," Kvirikashvili said.
"It was due to this very devotion and outstanding contribution to my country that led to him being awarded Georgia's honorary citizenship. In this time of mourning and sorrow, our thoughts and prayers are with Bob's bereaved family and loved ones."
A Generous Man
Walsh's efforts to help Georgia were also praised by Gary Koeb. He said Walsh helped "at a time with the country was struggling through its most difficult times."
"These activities did not bring him great wealth. But, he continued to heed the call every time a Georgian minister or businessman called upon him for introductions or other assistance. I'm proud to have known him and to have benefited from his kindness and friendship. He was a very generous man and always ready to activate his network to help a friend. He looked for solutions and creative ways to solve problems. He never accepted the impossible," Koeb said in an e-mail interview.
He added that Walsh was a humanitarian and arranged "for dozens of Georgian children to receive medical assistance in the U.S., and not only raised funding for these cases, but personally facilitated their medical, transportation and lodging arrangements."
"Pioneer of American Business in Georgia"
Mamuka Tsereteli, the President of the America-Georgia Business Council, told Investor.ge that Walsh was a generous man and a gifted promoter who brought millions of dollars of investment for Georgian businesses.
"Bob was one of the pioneers of American business in Georgia, one who brought millions of dollars of investments to Georgia. He also was one of the most efficient promoters of Georgia in the United States, bringing journalists and opinion makers to Georgia for almost 30 years, and advocating for Georgia in the USA," Tsereteli said in an e-mail interview.
"Bob was a very generous man: he saved the lives of many Georgians, by bringing them to the best hospitals in the Seattle area; he also organized funding for [many Georgians'] education. Bob had an unconditional love for Georgia.
He said many times, in public and in private, that people in Georgia are unlike anywhere else: warm, hospitable, loving, and that is why he never stopped coming to Georgia since his first visit in the '80s. Bob was an incredible man and he will be missed by many people in Georgia and the United States."
Making the Impossible Possible
GMT Group CEO George Tavadze said Walsh was a "powerful and tireless promoter" who "made a real difference in the lives of the Georgian people."
"During the time of despair and ravages of the early 1990s, he was instrumental in restoring our faith and hope that together we could build successful businesses to help make this country an attractive destination and achieve greater prosperity for its people," he said in an e-mail interview.
"Through his efforts and facilitation one of the first major U.S. investments was brought to Georgia, resulting in the development of the Marriott Tbilisi Hotel, Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, Mtatsminda restaurant complex an Sante factory."
Tavadze noted that Walsh was instrumental in introducing Georgia to the rest of the world. He recalled a favorite story of Walsh's about trying to educate U.S. businesspeople about opportunities in the country.
"This was one of his favorites: Bob and his partner were at a meeting with potential U.S. investors talking about Georgia in one of the U.S. states. While discussing recent developments he mentioned the civil war and his humanitarian efforts saying that "I even was there helping them during the civil war." A confused man in the audience astonishingly looked at him asking how old he was, all the time believing that Bob was selling a business opportunity in Atlanta, Georgia," Tavadze said.
"This real-life story speaks for itself and is a good illustration of what tremendous efforts were needed at the time to promote Georgia and put it on the global map for investments."
Biographer Steve Rudman said "I think I would sum up Bob's Georgian legacy this way: Largely what the West knows about Georgia, and for every Western dollar invested in Georgia today, is a direct result of Bob's enthusiastic promotion of the country here in the United States for many years. He never missed a chance to give Georgia a ringing endorsement in our press/media."