Members of the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce were stunned last week with the announcement of the death of Gary Bright, the chamber's former CEO and executive director. He had resigned as head of the chamber on Nov. 2. Bright, 60, died of a heart attack at his home in Fort Myers on Dec. 13 sometime around 12:30 p.m., according to Inke Baker, who was selected by the chamber board to succeed him as CEO and president a few weeks ago.
Members of the chamber called Bright's death tragic and untimely.
"A 'Bright' light has gone out. To say that Gary will be missed is an understatement," Baker said in an email sent out a few days ago to all chamber members and community leaders.
Bright came to the chamber in November of 2011. He was well-liked and respected. He emceed all meetings of the chamber, including the monthly luncheons where he presented recognition plaques to outstanding members of the community. The chamber is located at 25 Homestead Rd. in the Lehigh Town Center on the corner of Alabama and Homestead roads.
A visitation and a funeral were held Monday, Dec. 17 at the Hodges Funeral Home at Lee Memorial Park, just outside Lehigh on SR82. A member of the chamber, Steve Thomas was expected to conduct the service, Baker said.
Bright is survived by his wife, Jackie; his children, Cory, Chris and Sean and two grandchildren, Jack and Brook. Baker said the family suggested that in lieu of flowers, that contributions be made to help finance his grandchildren's college funds. Donations were collected at the funeral. You can also send a donation to the Chamber office and make your checks out to Edward Jones for Gary Bright Memorial Education Fund and mail them to the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce at PO Box 757, Lehigh Acres, FL, 33070. Baker said the donations will be forwarded to the family memorial account to benefit his grandchildren's college education.
During Bright's reign at the chamber, the name of the organization was changed to better represent its extended service as the Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce. Of the more than 300 members, some are from other areas of Lee County.
Inke Baker, who was the executive assistant to Bright during his tenure at the chamber, said he had never complained to her about any type of illness and she didn't know if he had been treated for heart disease before. When he suddenly resigned, he did not tell Baker or volunteers at the office his reason.
He sent a letter of resignation to Cindy Dodd, chairman of the board of directors of the chamber, who said he would be sorely missed.
Prior to taking over the chamber's top position, Bright was executive director of the Clear Lakes Acres Chamber of Commerce in Clear Lakes, Iowa, from March 2008 to when he came to Lehigh to accept the position at the chamber. In his resume, he had listed Gregg A. Gillman, president of Hendry County Economic Development, as a reference. Gillman, who lives in LaBelle, told The Citizen that Bright was a good man, interested in new development for Lehigh, and he was glad to have endorsed him for the Lehigh position. He had also received support as a reference from a director of the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce in Iowa.
One of his goals when he assumed the office of CEO at the Lehigh chamber was to increase its membership which had lost members during the Great Recession that began in 2007 and 2008. He told The Citizen that he wanted to be on a first-name basis with all of the members.
He had said in his resume that: "To grow membership investment while retaining current investment is to think 'out of the box' for ways to improve programs offering members while working within a conservative, yet adequate budget."
Bright had told The Citizen that he enjoyed early rock and roll music and had begun his career working for a radio station in Sterling, Illinois, in February of 1997. He went on to become executive director of the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce in Sterling, Illinois, in August and served there until March 2004. While there he had created a fundraising carnival event that generated $10,000 for the chamber.
The Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce will hold its annual gala event in January at Pelican Preserve, where a new board of directors will be installed. Most have retained their seats on the board.
Before his resignation, Bright said he was planning to speak at the gala and help to recognize several outstanding people in Lehigh.
Also while in Sterling, Illinois, from Aril 2004 to February 2008, Bright managed the day-to-day operations of a 300,000-square feet enclosed shopping center.
The Lehigh chamber office was closed part of Monday in observance of Bright's funeral.
The new president and CEO, Inke Baker, asked the Lehigh community to keep his family in their thoughts and prayers.