Craig Whitney, public servant and community champion, passed away too soon last Saturday. As president of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, he was a highly visible leader with nonstop energy, and a passion for making our region a center for growth and innovation — for businesses both large and small. He knew that focusing on a healthy business economy also needed to go hand and hand with enriching quality of life. In that way, people wouldn’t just visit our Metro (a word he liked to use), but they would set down roots, and stay for good. Just as he and wife, Lori, decided to do 10 years ago.
That wasn’t a fact certain, however. When Craig arrived on the scene with a resumé filled with impressive credentials, in both the private and public sectors, many believed that leading The Chamber was just one more box to check on his way up the ladder. After all, how long would a former assistant to President George H.W. Bush stick around in Fargo? We are so fortunate he stayed. Never touting his accomplishments, but using the vast network he’d developed over the years to help make our Chamber the best it could be, not just here, but in the whole country.
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For the past 10 years, Craig worked tirelessly as he led The Chamber with vision, passion and collaboration. He made sure he had the right help by pushing his board of directors to up its game. He carefully found the right individuals who would bring much needed skills and connections to the table. Always conscious of how they would fit in with the dynamic of the board, he helped make the board better and bolder.
Craig was equally dedicated to Chamber staff. He loved and trusted his team, knowing that loyalty is a two-way street. Many predated him, but stayed on for his entire 10 years. He was also committed to hiring young, talented staff members, mentoring and allowing them to grow. Then wishing them well with pride if they chose to move on, and making sure to stay in touch.
Staying in touch was something that was in Craig’s DNA. Not just by networking with important business contacts, but staying in touch in a deeply personal, caring way. If you made a real connection with Craig, it would take a whole lot to break it. And, as his list of friends and associates grew and grew over the years, no one fell off the list. It’s a reflection of a trait he didn’t wear on his sleeve, but at the heart of who he was. Craig was just so good at being a human being. Only his family knows how good. And, his family always came first.
Craig was a patriot. While that term is tossed around a great deal, he truly loved his country. Craig believed that in addition to career enhancement, it was also his duty to serve both a vice president and then a president of the United States. Duty was also a factor, as he went on to work as a key member of leadership at the 1996 Olympic Games, helping to ensure a successful and safe event. He brought his patriotism to The Chamber, where it manifested itself in many ways. Among them was reestablishing and reinvigorating the Military Affairs Committee, and working long and hard to help maintain and grow the North Dakota Air National Guard’s presence at Hector International Airport.
His legacy is rich with Chamber accomplishments in so many areas. But, events had a special place in his heart. Not for the spectacle, necessarily, but how they could be an effective, strategic tool for increasing Chamber revenue and raising the visibility of the organization. Not only did he and his team increase the quality and attendance of ongoing events, he invented new ones.
Most prominently was the Voices of Vision, where more than one board member and business exec raised eyebrows in doubt when he floated the idea. But, he pressed on, as only Craig could do, nearly willing the event to happen. Ten high-profile, nationally-known speakers later, attendance broke another record this year, and nothing less than a sports arena can hold it. A lasting tribute to his unique talent of persuasion.
Craig Whitney: Memorable, bold, passionate, loyal, curious, concerned, committed, professional, tenacious, strategic, believable, caring, courageous and funny (really funny). Unforgettable, one of a kind, we miss him already, and promise to both meet and then exceed his vision for our Chamber and the communities we are proud to serve.