Shelly Garrett always seemed larger than life, which is part of the reason why the news of her death on Tuesday at age 65 from liver failure came as a shock throughout the mid-valley.
The accolades that were showered on Garrett as news spread of her death were well-deserved — and completely accurate.
Even before Garrett assumed the role as the executive director of the Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce in 2007, there was little doubt that she had emerged as arguably the community's biggest cheerleader and ambassador; in fact, in 2005, she had been honored as Lebanon's woman of the year.
In her dozen years as the head of the chamber, she built on those roles, both in Lebanon and throughout Linn County.
Michelle Steinhebel, the former editor of the Lebanon Express weekly newspaper, has watched Garrett at work for years. Now, Steinhebel works for the COMP-Northwest medical school and serves on the City Council, positions which have given her a different perspective on Garrett's work.
But the bottom line has stayed the same: "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."
Chances were pretty good, though, that if you lived in Lebanon or did business in Linn County, you knew Shelly Garrett.
You certainly knew about the community projects that had her fingerprints all over them: She was a driving force behind the medical school, the Edward C. Allworth Veterans Home, the Samaritan Health Sciences Campus, the expansion of Linn-Benton Community College and its Lebanon-based technology center. (She also served for eight years on the LBCC Board of Education.)
Those are the headline accomplishments. But the list of other achievements that Garrett can take credit for would go on and on for page after page, all fired by the same fuel that drives all community leaders: The passion to give something back to a community that they love.
In reading some of the comments others have made about Garrett, it's striking to see some of the same terms show up again and again. City Councilor Rebecca Grizzle put it extremely well: "I can't even begin to process the hole her passing leaves in my life." LBCC President Greg Hamann echoed that: "This leaves a huge hole for us." Marty Cahill, the CEO of Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, added that "her loss leaves a gap that will be difficult to fill."
All that is true. It's hard to imagine another community leader who could fill all the roles that Garrett was playing. But she might tell us that it's not necessary for any single person to do that; instead, she might say, find one area to contribute, one way to feed that passion to give back to the community. Take the plunge and do that. That one thing so often leads to the next. And our communities get stronger, become better places to live, one thing at a time.
That work comes later, though. Right now, the important thing is to pause, pay tribute and give thanks for this one life that made such a difference to so many people and was so fully devoted to Lebanon. Shelly Garrett made her community a better place to live, and that's the highest legacy any of us can leave behind. (mm)
Last call for poems
Here's a reminder about today's Poem in Your Pocket Day: It's an opportunity to select a favorite poem, print out a copy (unless you have it memorized) and read it aloud to someone at some point in the day. Your dog or cat would count as a potential audience.
If you want to read it to a human, however, and despair that you might not have an opportunity to do so, our offer stands: Call us at 541-758-9502 (our message on Thursday will feature a short poem) and read it aloud after the beep. (mm)