Even if you don't know Illinois, you can imagine pretty easily that those two cities don't usually belong in the same sentence (except maybe if you're talking about political corruption).
But Jerry Roper was from a different era. He understood the now lost art of partnership, compromise and selfless dedication to the common good. It's why I never felt intimidated in his presence while I assuredly should have been.
When I met Jerry Roper, he was the CEO of the Chicago CVB. I was the newly minted director of the Destination Marketing Organization in Kankakee County. I knew next to nothing about the world that I would later make my career...but, that didn't matter to Jerry. Nor did it matter that I couldn't deliver nearly the votes or influence that others around him could. He saw someone willing to work for a common cause and that's all he needed to know. I was in.
My favorite recollection: The Thompson Administration had suggested some pretty substantial cuts to the Illinois Tourism budget (sound familiar?). There were, as I recall, five of us set to testify in front of the Senate Tourism Committee: Jerry, Wendy Fisher (Rockford), Tom Rivera (Woodfield), Jerry Preston (Quincy) and I. We walked into the hall, Jerry swinging a briefcase that seemed to be ready to burst with all the compelling data he was about to deliver.
We arrived at the conference table, he opened said briefcase and, without sitting down, firmly said "Gentlemen." And, then began to explain how bone-headed the proposed cuts were. I don't think the rest of us said a word. Indeed, he had said it all with such an eloquent command that I know I was hoping not to be called upon.
The Chairman of the Committee pondered Jerry's words for a few moments, asked if there were any questions from the committee and, seeing none, thanked and excused us. As we exited the hall, the committee rejected the proposed cuts.
Jerry would go on to lead the Chicago Chamber of Commerce during an era in which Chambers generally had more clout and influence than DMOs. Today, I think Jerry would have stayed where he was when the Chamber came calling.
Chicago, Illinois and the Destination Marketing world lost a marvelous soul over the weekend as Jerry moved on to his next adventure at the age of 74.
Godspeed, my friend. And, thank you for your mentorship.