Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze & Observer 10-31-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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6 CHAMBER OF COMMERCE OCTOBER-31-NOVEMBER 6, 2019 | VALLEY BREEZE BREEZE PHOTO BY TOM WARD BARBARA and JOHN GREGORY stand in front of their Slatersville home – the home John grew up in – near St. John the Evangelist Church in North Smithfield. John Gregory will soon retire after 27 years as president and CEO of the Northern R.I. Chamber of Commerce. Barbara retired last year from Bryant University. Never far from limelight, laughs, Gregory leaves Chamber stage John C. Gregory, salesman, busi- ness leader and retiring president and CEO of the Northern R.I. Chamber of Commerce, might have been born for his position. Like many boys, he noticed his dad's activities, at home and outside, as a child. Part of Chamber leadership is always having a smile and ready joke when you run into a group of people, as Gregory, now almost 70, has for the past 27 years, and longer. "My father was Edwin Gregory, and he was the emcee of just about every event in North Smithfield when I was growing up" in the 1950s. And so the jokes and comfort of stand- ing before a crowd came easy for John Gregory, who has led annual dinners and – for several years now – has been goading more money from attendees as auctioneer for the Stadium Theatre's "Auction for the Arts" every spring. He's also been part of a "celebrity waiter" fundraiser in years past, and he's loved the inter- action with people. "My dad was very outgoing," Gregory proudly recalls. And it didn't take long for little John to make his own mark. "I was always in school plays. Some friends and I had a rock band, the "Sound Offs," and we did mostly Rolling Stones covers. In fact, he and his wife, Barbara, still live in the family homestead near St. John the Evangelist Church in Slatersville. His band background and personal- ity was a perfect match for radio in Woonsocket, where two radio sta- tions, – WWON (now WOON) and WNRI – led the way. He worked first at WOON radio in sales and helped with the Greater Woonsocket Chamber of Commerce's newsletter, his first foray into the Chamber busi- ness. There, he began to meet many of the civic leaders he'd have to know much better as he ascended the Chamber ladder in years to come. He then headed to WKRI in West Warwick, and finally, landed the job as station manager at WNRI, in 1982-83. With changes at the station, Gregory decided to head into Chamber work fully with the Cranston Chamber of Commerce in 1986 as a salesperson, where he spent three years. Later, he became vice president of membership for the Providence Chamber of Commerce, the state's largest. It was in 1986 that John met his wife, Barbara, at a Chamber event at the University of Delaware. She worked for the Chamber in Newburgh, N.Y. at the time. They were married one year later, and she began a new job in college career counseling and internships, work- ing for Providence College, Bryant University, Brown University, and finally, back to Bryant, where she recently retired as Associate Director of the Amica Career Center. By 1990, as the hub of economic activity in the Blackstone Valley was growing rapidly in the suburbs of Lincoln and Cumberland, The Greater Woonsocket Chamber of Commerce, and the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce, of Pawtucket, decided to merge and form the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce. Both Chambers were more than 100 years old, and for many traditionalists, it wasn't an easy transition. Then things got even worse. The day of incorporation chosen was Jan. 1, 1991, and on that fateful day, Gov. Bruce Sundlun closed the failing, state agency insured credit unions, bringing economic activity to a halt. Many businesses – who had checking and savings accounts in those failed credit unions – had funds frozen for months. It was an econom- ic calamity that was slow to heal, and kept new NRI Chamber President Herb Hanson on the defensive. Hanson arrived as president to find debt that had been piled up by both Chambers, and then had to deal with the lack of dues payments from many businesses, with funds frozen, struggling to keep up. The follow- ing summer, directors decided to move on to new leadership, and the 43-year-old Gregory, now with years of sales experience and well known across northern Rhode Island, left the Providence Chamber and took the reins. He began in September of 1992, at age 42. It took Gregory's persistence and hard work for three years to get the Chamber, with a staff of about 12 at the time, out of debt and on firmer footing. It's been there ever since. "Today," notes Gregory, "it's in the most solid financial position that it's ever been in. It's one of the legacies I and our board of directors have been able to build through the years." He's also proud of his advocacy efforts by the Chamber and its staff through the years, as well as the emerging and modern workforce training efforts. He also noted success in the Chamber's work with the R.I. General Assembly delegation and leaders House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggiero. He passes the torch to Elizabeth Catucci, of North Providence, who was named new president and CEO last month. Gregory is working with her in the transition. The Chamber will celebrate Gregory's service in an event at Twin River Event Center in Lincoln on Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. After that, the Gregorys look forward to retirement from jobs well done, when they can share more time with son Shawn, of Portland, Maine, and daughter Meredith, of North Smithfield. They have five grandchildren. - By Thomas Ward Strong finances, advocacy work top accomplishments

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