April 23, 2024


News for all

Business community celebrates life of chamber exec – Times-Standard

For a person who has made his living from the written word in some shape or form for the last quarter-century, I found myself at a loss trying to write about my friend and partner, Donna Wright, CEO of the Eureka Chamber of Commerce. Her recent passing came as more than a shock. For so many of us in the community, it feels like a blow to our very foundations. That’s why it was so hard to organize my thoughts. I must have typed and deleted these opening lines five or six times.

Finally, Donna’s always charming Aussie accent rang through in my mind: “Oh, just get on with it already!” So I got to work, tears in my eyes and a smile on my face.

This will be the third piece the Times-Standard has published about Donna since her passing. The first was the official announcement from the Eureka Chamber. (We are shattered for you, friends.) The second was a lovely article from our reporter, Sonia Waraich. It might be argued that was enough, but I obviously disagree. Part of this newspaper’s mission is to inform our readers of the truth, and the truth is that Donna Wright was too big for the usual coverage. Her impact on the community and the lives of her family, friends and business associates demands a greater presence in these pages.

Still, I find myself struggling with what to say. Not because I can’t think of anything but because my fond memories of Donna are legion and this space limited. And the point of this piece is to share more than just my own deep affection for my friend — it’s to offer space for some of the many, many others in our community who also admired and respected Donna for her work, and loved her for the kindness and brilliance of her spirit. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your submissions. You honor me, this newspaper, and our readers with your memories. Most importantly, of course, you honor our dear Donna.

“She was someone that operated at a very high level to bring together businesses in the community but took her time to make each individual she worked with, did Chamber business, or was in proximity to really feel special to her. She was a smile maker.”

— Frank Nelson, ambassador for the Eureka Chamber of Commerce

“Donna brought life to the Chamber and her commitment to our local business community was unparalleled. She has taught me so much as a Chamber Ambassador and businesswoman and I’m eternally grateful.”

— Teresa Conley, principal, vice president, Premier Financial Group

“She danced into my heart, I was captured by her light. She glimmers there eternal, her spirit ever bright.”

— Lynn Martinez

“Donna was so much fun to be around. She made every meeting, every project, and every campaign a joyous adventure.”

— Rob Holmlund, Chamber board member

“Donna was such a treasure for Eureka. I remember so fondly our conversations, especially throughout the COVID challenges of the past few years. I adored her passion for collective pragmatism and her skill at bringing people together was extraordinary. Business in Eureka was blessed by Donna’s hard work and passion and I know our local health care community will continue to benefit from her legacy well into the future.”

— Dr. Brian Mistler, health care administrator and board of directors member for the Eureka Chamber of Commerce

“Donna was amazing at building bridges. She was able to bring younger business leaders into the fold and introduce them to the established business community. She did so much to create an inclusive organization where all people are welcome, with the singular goal of improving the business climate in Eureka.”

— Bill Prescott, general manager of Lost Coast Communications and board of directors member for the Eureka Chamber of Commerce

“When Donna started at the Eureka Chamber, it felt like it had been stuck in the 1970s. Her impact was immediate and revolutionary. She was innovative and fun and playful, but she was also a fighter and advocate. She was committed to holding the city accountable for decisions, so our conversations weren’t always easy. They always ended positively, though and, damn it, I loved her.”

— Susan Seaman, Eureka mayor

“Donna was one of a kind and truly larger than life! For more than 8 years, she was a colleague and a personal friend of mine and everyone here at CBS. She was absolutely a master at building relationships. The positive effects of her work and dedication to this community will be felt for a very long time.”

— Evan Said, director of sales, Coastal Business Systems

“Donna was single-handedly one of the best collaborators I’ve worked with. She had an impeccable ability to bring people together to accomplish great things. Her love of the community was a constant in everything she did. Her humor was so infectious. I will miss her every day. The community has lost a champion.”

— Alanna Goldsmith, executive director, Humboldt Made

“From the first moment she walked into a Fortuna Chamber of Commerce meeting, it was clear that Donna Wright was a force to be reckoned with. She was a natural fit with the Eureka Chamber where her creative projects designed to elevate businesses made her a star in the Chamber arena across the country. And, she could make us laugh like no other — what more could you ask for?”

— Erin Dunn, field representative, Assemblymember Jim Wood

“Donna helped me become a better leader and community member. She was a mentor to many female business owners and operators. She championed for us. Her willingness to collaborate with so many other organizations helped our local business community grow more to be more inclusive.”

— Meredith Maier, co-owner, Six Rivers Brewery

“Our team described Donna as ‘a dynamo,’ ‘a true professional,’ and ‘an enthusiastic partner.’ As a former banker, she easily connected with and understood our needs, providing exceptional support of our efforts. Whether we worked regularly with her as chamber ambassadors, board members, or mixer hosts, we felt privileged to do so. Donna was the spirit of Eureka, and the positive impacts of her legacy will endure forever.”

— Team at Coast Central Credit Union

“I’ll never forget Donna’s smile and cheerful demeanor. She had a special ability to lift everyone’s spirits whenever she walked into a room. That is something I will forever attempt to imitate.”

— Joseph D’Ambra, Eureka Chamber ambassador

“Donna was a powerhouse, and you always knew where you stood. Once I earned her trust, she would delegate and say, ‘I know you’ve got this!’ She deeply cared about the health of her adopted home, only regretting leaving her immediate family in Australia. She loved the dynamic nature of Eureka and Humboldt County. Donna could work well with just about anyone under just about any circumstances.”

— Chris Nelson, Eureka Chamber ambassador chair

“Donna was a professional colleague and a personal friend. When we hired her for the Chamber, she blew my expectations out of the water, reinventing the Chamber over four years. More importantly, we shared a passion for good wine, good food, travel, and our community. Each of us who knew her had a unique and special relationship. Donna lived, loved, worked, and dreamed BIG. She left us too soon. I will miss you, my friend.”

— Shelley Nilsen, owner, Express Employment Professionals

“I valued every minute of my time with Donna, both personally and professionally, and always left feeling confident that together we could make huge changes in our community and beyond.”

— Rebecca Rex, Inn at 2nd & C

“When Donna called you answered or called her back quickly. You knew she wanted a donation but it didn’t matter because you knew that during that conversation she was going to make you laugh and say “you know I love you” before she hung up. The world is missing some sparkle and joy without our friend Donna and our neighborhood and our community will never be the same. Rest in peace and joy, lovely lady!”

— Jackie Moore, owner, Humboldt Craft Spirits

“Donna was the essence of life itself! She was funny, bright, the life of the party, and whip-smart! She was always thinking ahead and had an amazing talent to bring people together. She truly enjoyed the role of convener but then again how could you ever say “no” to Donna? I will miss her infectious laugh, smile and determination. She was one of a kind.”

— Virginia Bass, 4th District Humboldt County Supervisor

“It’s not every day that you meet someone for the first time and somehow you’ve been friends for years. That was Donna. A dynamic friend and leader, she will be missed. Her exuberance and zest for our community must live on and it is our duty to carry on her legacy.”

— Ross Creech, GM Quality Body Works Inc. and board of directors for the Eureka Chamber of Commerce

“Most people are not born with the enormous capacity to live with their heart wide open and their foot on the gas, the way Donna was. She was in love with her family, her friends, her community, and her career. She loved making people smile, and she loved advocating for others. I will always miss her, but I am so grateful to have known her because she was amazing.”

– Elan Firpo, Firpo Law Firm

“I don’t know of anyone who lived more vivaciously than Donna! Her “Live Out Loud” personality was contagious. She was so passionate about her friends, her family, and her community and she will be greatly missed by so many. If you had the opportunity to be in her presence you were gifted with her bright light and infectious smile.”

— Karen Lorenzo, one of Donna’s #girlgang besties, and fellow Soroptimist member

“Donna made you feel like a king or a queen. I recall walking into the Eureka Chamber a few years ago to say hello and had hardly passed through the door when Donna yelled my name and swept me into introductions and a tour of the new office space like I was some VIP. We will be a little less without her.”

— Ken Hamik, vice-chair, Arcata Chamber of Commerce and member of the board of directors of the Humboldt County Visitors Bureau

“When I first met Donna, she was a voice on a phone call from Sydney and a photo on the desktop of the Eureka man she would marry. Those conversations, those photos … they were a preview of the woman her friends came to know. Strong and resilient. Smart. Clever. Creative. Kind. Generous. Magically energetic. Remarkably good-humored. And incandescent. Donna brought the Australia sunshine … she blended it with the more delicate sun of the North Coast … magnified it … made it her own … and gave it back to us. An unforgettable friend.”

— Cindy Denbo, Eureka

“Donna was an amazing advocate for young people in our community. She helped to connect high school students to job readiness and career exploration opportunities and was always eager to support how students could meet and learn from business and community leaders. It was important to Donna to help kids pursue their dreams.”

— Jim Ritter, HCOE Community Outreach Coordinator

“I am blessed with many acquaintances and friends in my life but there are 5 people who are those that I consider my closest, best, adopted family, lifelong friends. Donna quickly became one of those individuals. She loved to be both a mentor, a shoulder for deep discussion, and an inappropriate laugh in my day. We have traveled, drank, shared meals, laughed, tormented my partner Jeff and our dear Philly together. The past two weeks have been a nightmare of memories, questions, and tears. Donna was a gift in my and Jeff’s life. There is a large hole in that place called friendship and love.”

— Gary Ogle (Gaz in Donna-ism), regional sales director, Aflac Northstate Regional Team and president of Gary Ogle Insurance Services LLC.

“Donna is one of the reasons I joined Soroptimist — I wanted to be best friends with the fun, energetic Aussie! I was fortunate to hear her career story (wow!) and then work with her on the property management side of the Chamber. She is the epitome of female leadership — assertive, confident and ambitious. I’m lucky to have known such a remarkable woman.”

— Laura Kramer-Green, controller at Kramer Investment Corporation

“What a privilege to know Donna! Donna had such passion and support for the business community of Humboldt County. Her impacts as a leader in our community were numerous with positive outcomes. As a colleague, Donna was inspiring. I not only remember her as a friend, but as a mentor. She was someone I knew I could turn to for advice, collaboration and knowledge in the field. Donna, you are loved.”

— Molly Steele, executive director, Arcata Chamber of Commerce

“Donna was a kindred spirit and dear friend. She was deeply committed to serving the community, not afraid to push the envelope — and to ask for help (dang, it was hard to say no to her!). She was gracious and grateful at every turn. Her energy, big ideas, and inspiring love for Humboldt will continue to have a ripple effect on our community for generations to come. Your presence is already missed, dear Donna!”

— Nancy Olson, Cal Poly Humboldt and Nancy G. Olson Consulting

“We are so deeply sad that our vibrant, dedicated friend Donna Wright is no longer with us. Donna was an astonishing fountain of bright ideas and get-it-done energy. And more than that: our Donna was warm and honest and real; perfectly herself in every moment. We miss your bright spirit, dear one.”

— Leila Roberts, director, North Coast Small Business Development Center

“Donna was a beacon and could light up any room. She was compassionate, driven and very entertaining. She did a lot for our business community in her few years; she was president of the Chamber office and touched so many lives and businesses. She will be very missed by her family, friends and our community.”

— Jennifer Budwig, acting president/CEO, Redwood Capital Bank

“Donna and I met and worked together not long after she moved here from Australia. She brought a lightness of being that filled our workplace with fresh thinking (and yes, I also mean her sweet and sassy way), a sense of humor, and she made us feel like we were uniquely wonderful and special to her. She continued to manifest these qualities over years, always there for me and my work. She will be missed.”

— Nancy Stephenson, community strategies manager at the Redwood Coast Energy Authority

“Donna never hesitated to engage the Chamber on issues that are important to our community even if they seemed out of our typical scope because she had the vision to see and understand how things like environmental sustainability and a sense of community are intertwined with our economic prosperity.”

— Matthew Marshall, executive director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce board member

“Donna had the superpower of making you feel like you were the most valued person in the room. In a short amount of time, she transformed the Eureka Chamber into the amazing organization that it is today. Her wry sense of humor and that Aussie accent only added to the extraordinary personality that she was. She never finished a conversation without telling me how much she appreciated and loved me. I will forever be inspired by her leadership, grateful for our friendship and dedicated to emulating the spirit of who she was in this life.”

— Leigh Pierre-Oetker, executive director, Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation and board member, Eureka Chamber of Commerce

“Donna taught me a multitude of things: a “chilly box” is not a container for keeping beef and beans in a spicy sauce; that a “car park” is not a place for my Subaru to play; that a “jumper” is not an ugly corduroy dress to wear over a frilly blouse; and that I have been pronouncing Amazon and Adidas wrong. But most importantly, Donna showed me that if you dream it, you really can achieve it and if you love it with gusto, that delight will be returned ten-fold.”

— Susan Gillespie, interim CEO, Eureka Chamber of Commerce

“Donna was an inspirational role model, friend, and community leader. Her vibrant personality and professional drive were felt deeply across our entire community. May the momentum she created and her spirit of kindness live on. She will be missed.”

— Darus Trutna, Real Property Management and board of directors for The Eureka Chamber of Commerce

“Donna was always a bright light that made the world a better place. She was a huge supporter of the film commission and an amazing community partner. Her work, love, and laughter will be greatly missed. There was no one quite like her.”

— Cassandra Hesseltine, Humboldt-Del Norte Film Commission

“Donna was exotic and marvelous. She showed us how we can work together through love and laughter. I will always remember and honor her memory for those qualities. Thank you Donna for coming into our lives”

— Linda Wise, general manager, Recology Humboldt County