LEBANON — The mid-valley is mourning Shelly Garrett, the 65-year-old executive director of the Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce, who died Tuesday of liver failure.
She was considered a dynamic cheerleader for her adopted hometown of Lebanon and all of Linn County.
Garrett was called a “second mom,” “mentor,” “cheerleader,” “dear friend” and “irreplaceable,” by the many people she touched — whether it was through her untiring efforts to make Lebanon a better community, her eight years on the Linn-Benton Community College Board of Education, or her work with United Way.
Garrett was a driving force behind the Edward C. Allworth Veterans Home, COMP-Northwest medical school and Samaritan Health Sciences Campus, expansion of Linn-Benton Community College and its Lebanon-based technology center, and many other community improvement projects.
And Garrett hoped to help the Lebanon Fire District; she was running for a position on its board of directors on the May 21 ballot.
She developed numerous successful programs during her 12 years with the chamber, but her “baby” was the annual Biz Expo, which drew nearly 2,000 visitors annually to the River Center.
Before accepting the Chamber of Commerce job in 2007, Garrett worked for Eads Broadcasting for a dozen years. Owner Charlie Eads said that she'd been in telemarketing when she, her husband Leroy and son Shawn, moved to Oregon from California to build their “dream home” on 26 acres outside of Lebanon.
“She was itching to call on people. She wanted to be out there talking to people,” Eads said. “She was very successful in putting projects together and she did a great job as our sales manager. She developed outstanding relationships with her clients because she truly enjoyed working with them.”
In 2007, Garrett landed what she called her dream job, guiding the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce. She told the Democrat-Herald that she had wanted the job for a long time, and she'd been a community cheerleader for years. In fact, in 2005, she was honored as Lebanon’s woman of the year.
She said that part of the chamber job's excitement was that whenever someone came through the chamber’s front door, “you never know whether they’re just passing through town on their way to Sisters, or looking to relocate a business with 500 employees.”
“There is zero doubt in my mind that Lebanon wouldn’t be where we are today without her saucy, fearless and bold leadership,” City Councilor Rebecca Grizzle said. “Shelly loved Lebanon and Lebanon loved her right back. She made me crazy, and I in turn, lived to make her crazy. I’m angry that she is gone. I can’t even begin to process the hole her passing leaves in my life.”
Fellow Councilor Michelle Steinhebel called Garrett a “close friend and a second mom. Her devotion to this community was second to none.”
Steinhebel praised her tenacity and commitment to her work and community.
“She served on committees, brought people together, helped build the buildings and make the donation asks,” Steinhebel said. “Whether you knew her or not, she has touched all of our lives in this community.”
City Manager Gary Marks echoed those sentiments.
“I am feeling such a deep loss over Shelly’s passing,” he said. “I’ve lost a true friend, a partner in building our community. Shelly is not the kind of person you find a replacement for. She truly was one of a kind and this is a devastating loss to our community.”
Marks said the community is “in a state of shock.”
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Janet Steele, executive director of the Albany Chamber of Commerce, said Garrett was not only a friend, but a great sounding board as well.
“There is only one chamber executive per town and sometimes, you need someone you can talk to, bounce ideas off,” Steele said. “Shelly was passionate about her community members, her family and she was a great friend to me.”
Garrett was especially passionate about Linn-Benton Community College and COMP-Northwest.
“This leaves a huge hole for us,” LBCC President Greg Hamann said. “She has been an amazingly strong board member, a true advocate for the college. I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job connecting the college with their community.”
On a personal note, he added, “Over the years, Shelly became a dear friend. Her passing is a shock to me personally, to the other members of our board and to our whole campus.”
Western University of Health Sciences Dean Paula Crone said that she and the college “lost a dear friend.”
“My heart is sad,” Crone said. “Shelly was part of our family even before there was a COMP-Northwest campus in Lebanon. She stepped up from day one and championed us. As a college and individually, this is such a deep loss for all of us. She was one of those giants we talk about, whose shoulders others stood upon. She was truly a pillar of the community, a tireless advocate for all things Lebanon and a never-ending champion for those around her.”
Hundreds of new doctors have benefited from the Tools of the Trade program, which Garrett spearheaded. COMP-Northwest students receive their first medical bag as a gift sponsored by local donors. Garrett was proud that they'd take that piece of Lebanon with them wherever they might practice for the rest of their lives.
Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist said that without Garrett, “There would not be a veterans home in Lebanon. She was a great advocate for both Lebanon and all of Linn County. She was always fair and honest and you could always count on her word being good. She was a wonderful person to work with and we will miss her.”
Former Linn County United Way executive director Greg Roe said Garrett “was friends with everyone she worked with. She was so enthusiastic, fun. She always had a great time working with others and did a great job as one of our leaders. I never left a meeting she was at, when I wasn’t smiling.”
Tuesday, State Rep. Sherrie Sprenger praised Garrett on the House floor of the Capitol building.
“Lebanon lost a giant today,” she said. “It’s not often we have the privilege to know, better yet to call a friend, a person who has significant and far-reaching influence in a community. Shelly Garrett was the director of the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce for many years. She was instrumental in Western University of Health Sciences founding a campus in Lebanon. That school graduates 100 doctors a year.”
Sprenger added that Garrett was “arguably Lebanon’s biggest ambassador,” adding that Garrett’s “fingerprints are on” virtually every major project in Lebanon over the past decade.
Lebanon Mayor Paul Aziz credited Garrett with being a major player in “Lebanon’s resurgence. She was instrumental in so many ways. She got along with everybody and was everywhere in our community with a personality that was bigger than life.”
Marty Cahill, CEO of Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, noted, “Shelly was a tireless supporter and advocate for the Lebanon community, especially the business community. She was one of our strongest supporters in Lebanon and east Linn County and we will always appreciate that. The entire Lebanon community benefited from her hard work, and her loss leaves a gap that will be difficult to fill. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this time.”
Garrett leaves her husband, Leroy, and son Shawn.
A public memorial is planned for 3:30 p.m. April 30 at the River Center, 3000 South Santiam Highway, Lebanon. Doors will open at 3 p.m.