Renowned car dealer Don Chalmers – described by Albuquerque community leaders as a great man, irreplaceable friend and an “entrepreneur extraordinaire” – died of cancer on Easter.
He was 65.
Chalmers, a former member of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents, owned Ford dealerships in Rio Rancho and Santa Fe. He served on many economic development, community service, health care and education boards in the Albuquerque area.
UNM Regents President Jack Fortner said Chalmers was more than a friend – he was a mentor, something apparent from Chalmers’ lengthy résumé.
“I had heard he wasn’t doing well and texted him last week just to tell him that I appreciated his friendship and his kindness and that I loved him,” Fortner said. “He was a great support for me. He could have been president (of the Regents), and I asked him if he would support me and he did, even though he would probably have been a better president.”
UNM President Robert G. Frank said Chalmers’ service at UNM was invaluable.
“Few people serve with as much heart as Don Chalmers did,” Frank said in a prepared statement. “Even after he left his official roles at the university, Don continued to offer his thoughtful advice and energetic expertise in support of UNM and our students. We have lost an irreplaceable friend.”
Chalmers was born in Tulsa, Okla., and earned a bachelor’s in marketing before starting at Ford in Houston. He went on to establish a string of dealerships in Seattle and Tulsa before moving to New Mexico in 1996, where he won Ford’s most prestigious, national award – the President’s Award – more than 12 times, along with many other accolades. At the time of his death, Chalmers was a board member on the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Central New Mexico and the Rio Rancho Community Foundation.
His interest in higher education led him to the regent’s position, as well as his appointment to the state’s Higher Education Commission by former Gov. Bill Richardson, among other board positions. He has funded numerous scholarships, including a Presidential Scholarship at UNM.
He helped found the local affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and was a member of the UNM Health Sciences Board of Directors. He previously served on boards for Sandoval Regional Medical Group, University of New Mexico Hospital Clinical Operations and the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation.
Gary Housley, the general manager of Don Chalmers Ford, said Chalmers’ family members are making funeral arrangements and those will be announced in the next few days.
Chalmers was a Leadership New Mexico graduate who was scheduled to be honored at the 2014 Leadership New Mexico Annual Award Dinners on May 2. The award is for “exceptional leadership” that greatly impacted the state.
“What a great guy he was, a great friend to Albuquerque and New Mexico. It’s just so sad,” Fortner said.
Don Chalmers Ford recently received the Rust Award For Excellence in Ethical Business Practice for For-Profit Businesses.
When interviewed about that award, Chalmers told the Journal the company has 300 management processes to determine anything from how a car is priced to how employees are trained, and everyone affected by the decision can weigh in.
“This is not for sissies. You really have to be committed,” he said last month.
Employees are encouraged to be active members of the community, and form groups that do community service and fundraising mostly on their own time.
“I want to be a great business in a great community,” Chalmers told the Journal last year. “I don’t want to be a good business in a crummy community, and it’s up to businesses to get involved and give back to make it a great community.”
As word of his death spread Sunday, community members and officials weighed in.
“Don was a wonderful, giving man who devoted such a large portion of his life to serving those in our community,” said Gov. Susana Martinez in a statement. “He cared deeply about our state, he was a dedicated successful business owner who employed countless New Mexicans over his long career, and he will be sorely missed.”
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said the community must continue with Chalmers’ dedication to service.
“Albuquerque has lost a great man who dedicated himself to our community,” Berry said in a prepared statement. “He will be greatly missed and it will be up to all of us to carry on in his tradition of selfless community service. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Greggory Hull, mayor-elect of Rio Rancho, said Chalmers will be sorely missed by the community.
“Over the past two decades, Mr. Chalmers’ name became synonymous with Rio Rancho. His contributions to the city, region and state are immense,” Hull said in a prepared statement. “I am saddened to hear of Mr. Chalmers passing … Mr. Chalmers’ family will be in our prayers.”
Chamber of Commerce President Terri Cole said Chalmers was an influential leader, and his presence will be missed.
“The lights of Albuquerque will be dimmer as we mourn the loss of a great community leader, a successful businessman and a generous philanthropist and volunteer for our city and state,” Cole said in a prepared statement. “Don was an entrepreneur extraordinaire. He held his vision for his business in a steady manner while focusing on the needs and success of others.”
Chalmers is survived by his wife, two children and two grandchildren, as well as his two brothers.