This is by far the most difficult tribute I have written. Over the years, I have written tributes and eulogies for some amazing people. And yet, finding the words to give honor to a man such as Don Chalmers has been overwhelming at best.
Don Chalmers, a former chairman of the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber (1999-00) was owner of Don Chalmers Ford. Additionally, Don served as past chairman and founding board member of the Rio Rancho Community Foundation. Don passed away on Easter Sunday, surrounded by his family, after a long valiant battle with cancer. Over the past weeks, he has been honored and remembered as a community leader, a philanthropist and a great employer, to name a few.
I did not have the privilege of serving as president/CEO under Don’s leadership as chair, but I did have the privilege of serving with him in many chamber and community initiatives. Don’s leadership to the chamber extended long past his term as chair. We spoke frequently about him returning to the board. However, standing by his belief to mentor his employees, he always said “No, I’d rather have another employee than me representing Don Chalmers Ford … we need to mentor new leaders.”
From 2001-13, he spoke at every Leadership Sandoval County class on effective leadership. His job was to close out this class session and he always did so in a manner that the class participants were motivated to become involved in the community and become stronger leaders. They will long remember “The Gift of the Goose.” He spoke to our Visionaries about not waiting to get involved, but to set the example now while they were younger. He encouraged them to seek out mentors and follow leaders who impacted their lives in a positive manner. He also often spoke to groups of small business owners about challenges in business.
As a successful businessman, Don believed that “happy employees mean happy customers” was an intricate part to business success. Another huge part of success is his belief in giving back to the community through our dollars, time and efforts. He always emphasized that giving is not always money, but time and personal action. Don Chalmers Ford employees volunteer hundreds of hours annually throughout our community. He shared with me once that he always took time to read to our elementary school children, but they really “wanted the guy in uniform — our service guys — not me in a suit.”
Don was a man of integrity, honesty and fairness. To all who admired him, we knew he truly “walked the talk” in every aspect of his life. The one attribute of his life I admired the most was his passion. His passion for family, his God, his employee family and his community was so contagious! He never forgot his passion for selling cars and the impact purchasing an automobile played on a family. He would return to the showroom floor every once in awhile to maintain that passion. I learned from him that if one really follows their passion(s) in life, the sky is the limit. I also learned from him that everyone brings something special to the table and we can get where we need to go through collaboration and cooperation.
Over the past 12 years, I was given the honor and privilege of spending many hours in conversation with this remarkable man. He was my mentor, leader and, most importantly, my good friend! I will miss his quick wit, his “Oklahoma sayings,” his wisdom, his laughter and his leadership.
I remember when he talked to me about his diagnosis and that it would probably be how he would eventually leave this world. But, he added, “… I will do it on my terms…,” and he did! I was not surprised at all, that he, because of his strong faith, chose Easter Sunday to go home.
The first thing I heard on the Monday after his death was that “Rio Rancho feels a lot different today.” Yes, it did and does. I was asked what we are going to do without him. I don’t have a magical answer for that question, but I believe he would want each of us to remember his legacy by giving back to the community, our workplace and our family tirelessly with integrity, honesty, compassion and, most of all, passion.
On behalf of all of us, we thank Dianne and Don’s entire family for sharing Don with us. Our deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers are with you and will continue to be with you over the future. God speed, my dear friend Don … you touched our lives; we have grown!
(Debbi Moore is president and CEO of the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce.)