Saturday, September 18, 2021

Leadership During A Pandemic: The Coronado Chamber’s Executive Director Sue Gillingham Proves It’s All About Community

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When it’s time to define leadership, most of us think of responsibility, initiative, vision, and innovation. Then when you add in leadership during a pandemic, most of us have to stop and think – what does that look like? It would take a lot of searching to find that right leader – look no further than Sue Gillingham, the Coronado Chamber’s Executive Director.

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Sue became Executive Director at the Coronado Chamber of Commerce in 2015. The Chamber heads many events during the year, but the biggest and most prestigious is none other than the annual Salute to the Military Ball. Sue leads the team in months of planning to put on the event. The black tie event is one of many things Sue does phenomenally; bringing people together. As a military child herself, Sue understands the truest sacrifice of the military. Sue’s husband is also a Navy veteran. Not only are the residents of Coronado philanthropists and advocates, but a military family and business owners as well; the Gillinghams also built the 1906 Lodge here in town. There are few people who encompass what it really means to be a Coronadan more than Sue Gillingham.

The past 14 months have shown most of us what our true colors really are – Sue’s glimmer brightly in Coronado green and gold. As soon as the pandemic hit in early March last year, not a beat was skipped – she quickly gathered her Chamber team and Board of Directors and put forth immense efforts to assist in rapidly changing rules and regulations for local businesses, began creative local marketing campaigns for restaurants and retailers, and fueled a Loyal To Local campaign that called upon the community to support local businesses as frequently as possible. Chamber Chairwoman and General Manager of Glorietta Bay Inn, Claudia Ludlow shares that, “Sue’s dedication to the Chamber and our community has been unsurpassed. This past year has been quite a challenge for all of us, and Sue has shown her true dedication throughout the year in supporting our local businesses and our community, from life loans, constant updates to the community and vaccine lunches have been beneficial to so many. We are grateful to have her leadership!”

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The City’s Lifeline Loan program was a rapid response to local business crisis. Without Sue’s all hands on deck leadership, businesses would not have received the crucial assistance they needed at their darkest hour. Sue’s unwavering commitment to the Coronado community is the perfect example of what some call “meeting the moment”; doing everything possible to get through the hardest moments that require grit and optimism; surviving the pandemic and keeping our businesses afloat during devastating shutdowns. Time after time, Sue’s resilient spirit and optimistic approach were the silver linings that many business owners in Coronado needed.

What else does a phenomenal leader do? They put solutions into action. When the City of Coronado announced a vaccine site with Sharp Hospital, Sue understood the importance of vaccine volunteers and staff and feeding the people that were making vaccination possible. Sue called upon the community, local businesses, and local nonprofits for lunch sponsorship – donations would be used to cater volunteer lunches from local restaurants to benefit both the local restaurants and volunteers and staff. The call to action from Sue was inspiring; the vaccine lunches have surpassed 2,200 sandwiches and is still going strong, and a partnership with the Coronado community’s most important task – getting through to the end of the pandemic. Chamber Board Member Mike Woiwode puts it perfectly: “The Chamber, under Sue’s direction, leaned into the task of keeping Orange Avenue viable during this devastating year. Sue took the pulse of the businesses to find out how to help. From the outset, she took steps to encourage Coronadans to buy local, creating advertising campaigns for takeout and remote purchasing. She worked with National and Regional Chambers of Commerce to learn what programs were most effective. She worked with financial institutions to tailor state and federal assistance programs to our needs. She worked with the City to create a business assistance program. The lockdown hurt our vibrant city. It would have hurt much more if not for Sue’s determined leadership.”

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Sue’s steadfast love and loyalty to Coronado is unwavering; a shining example of nonprofit leadership at its best. Getting through a pandemic together, and leading through the good, bad, and otherwise. There’s really something special about Coronado, and it’s because of people like Sue Gillingham.


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