If you love what’s happening in Lebanon, remember Shelly Garrett

In a word, trying to describe Shelly Garrett so briefly would be impossible.

I’ve worked in a variety of communities, in a variety of news-related positions. In my field, you interact with a lot of movers and shakers.

I have to admit, I don’t think, among the dozens of power people I’ve dealt with as a journalist and otherwise, I’ve ever met anybody quite like  Shelly Garrett.

As one person in our story on page 1 stated, she WAS Lebanon.

Shelly was one of those rare people who really are larger than life. She had an amazing combination of sizzle, sass, savvy and salesmanship that combined with her fervent love for Lebanon to produce someone who can never be replaced.

We hear, once in a while, about someone whose occupation “isn’t just a job, it’s a calling.”

That’s the sense I always got about Shelly. Yeah, I think she being executive director of a booming chamber of commerce, but her zeal for Lebanon seemed very … personal.

Listening to the wave after wave of tributes that have come from all sides since her passing last month, I know I wasn’t alone.

My first real memory of my own experience with Shelly came when she called me up one day to inform me – quite bluntly – that one of our staffers wasn’t doing a good job, in her opinion (although she didn’t bother mentioning that last part). It was kind of unusual, which is probably why I still remember it, but she was right and I appreciated her honesty, though it came with all the finesse of a brick.

I also quickly came to recognize that it was vintage Shelly. She didn’t mess around.

But, as others have testified, while she could be tough, she was also into building relationships and we kind of hit it off.

Ours grew over the years, and part of Shelly’s legacy, which I’ve heard a lot of people talking about since her passing, includes the newspaper you hold in your hands.

This isn’t sentimental spin. Over the course of several years Shelly repeatedly asked me (more like demanded) when we were going to produce a version of The New Era for Lebanon, because she liked the paper we put out in Sweet Home. She said it was what she thought a community newspaper should be (although she left that middle part out).

Certainly, there were other reasons why, 2½ years ago, we decided to publish the Lebanon Local as a monthly and see if we could contribute to the Lebanon community that way. But when I think back, I hear Shelly’s voice ringing in my memory: “Scott, when are you going to do The New Era in Lebanon?”  Just about every time we crossed paths.

I smile because I’ve heard the same thing from plenty of other people who tell how she was a key figure, outright or behind the scenes, in the boom on the north end of Lebanon – COMP-Northwest medical school, the apartments, the Veterans Home, the Linn-Benton Community College expansion.

She was all the things I’ve said above, but she was also honest and she had a sense of humor. She got things done, and she sometimes ruffled feathers in the process, but it’s a lot harder to hold a grudge when the outcome is success. It’s pretty obvious from the reaction of the community, and people outside Lebanon, how important she’s been to this city.

Shelly was quirky. Her friends tell how she loved low-bid blackjack tables in Vegas, playing golf (multitasking all the way as she drove her cart around the course, never bothering to keep a score card), shopping, reorganizing her spacious closets at home filled with the results of her shopping trips), her giant Great Dane Riley  and much more than we could ever fit into a single issue of this newspaper.

That story on page 1 could have gone on and on, and probably would never have gotten boring. But we had to cut it off somewhere.

Her friends joked that they should charge admission or hold a 50/50 raffle at her memorial service – with 50 percent going to the chamber. I enjoyed that one. It would have been vintage Shelly.

When I think of Shelly years from now, I won’t be thinking of the quirks and the patter when she had a microphone in her hand. No, what I’ll think about will be how one person could contribute so much to the progress that was made in a community that needed it.

When I look at Lebanon, I’m impressed. I’m impressed by the can-do spirit that pervades the community. I’m impressed by the visible progress being made downtown and elsewhere. I’m impressed by the careful and collaborative planning that’s gone into all this.

I realize there are still plenty of problems to solve. I’m not foolish enough to think that Shelly Garett made all that happen. But she helped – a lot, to hear people talk now. I’ve been in a lot of communities where that list I just gave hasn’t happened. They lack the people necessary to create what I like to call “critical mass,” to effectively address and solve problems.

Shelly was unique. You may not have known her, but you can be  thankful for the influence she’s had on many other intelligent, capable, energetic people who will carry on the legacy – that critical  mass –she’s left.