Chicago has suffered a tremendous loss with the passing of Jerry Roper. He served as President and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce from 1993-2013. Prior to that he was the president of the Chicago Convention and Visitors Bureau, and has often been referred to as the ‘business mayor of the city.’ Jerry took on the monumental task of fighting daily for all businesses in Chicago, big and small, and I fear he was the last of his kind. There was no greater champion of Chicago and its business community, and no better cheerleader for the underdog. He was one of the most amazing people I have ever met, and I am so grateful to call him my friend.
It is important to me to be able to share a few personal stories about Jerry.
In my early 20’s I tackled several internships with the hope of landing a city job. I hustled during my internships the same way I would with any job. The first one was with the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, (my dream job). That internship lead to another at one of the largest PR firms in the country, Jasculca Terman. That firm was handling the logistics for a huge aviation conference, and I was responsible for getting the speakers where they needed to be. It was then when I first met Jerry. He saw something in me that day, and he let me know immediately. He asked, “Who do you work for?” I replied, I am an intern with Jasculca Terman.” Then he handed me his business card and said, “Call me when your internship is up. You’re going to work for me one day.” I kept in touch with Jerry for several months after that, and sure enough he called me one day and asked if I was ready to work for him. I was 22 years old, still putting myself through school, and I took a position as the Manager of Special Events for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. It was my first “real” job, and I was so proud to work under Mr. Roper.
Jerry came into the office every day at 6:00am after his workout. He had an open door policy, and when you had his attention, you had his full attention. His often jovial demeanor and spectacular smile can only be described as magnetic and almost angelic. To know him was to love him, regardless of what side of the fence you were on.
I left my position at the Chamber in order to pursue the next chapter in my career, opening Motorcycle Riding’s Cool, the first private motorcycle school in Illinois. Not only was Jerry very supportive of my decision, he was also my cheerleader. In 2009 he was quoted in an article written about me in the Chicago Tribune. “I was immediately impressed by her,” says Roper. “She has a real focus and a tenacity to get any job done. Then a certain passion kicks in. I hated to lose her, but I am not at all surprised by her success. I think she is one of the most amazing people — male or female — of her generation.”
I didn’t want to abuse my relationship with Jerry during my many struggles as a small business owner. However, I did call in one favor, and he delivered in a big way. I won’t get into all of the details, but a lack of understanding and a willingness to cooperate allowed a division of the Office of the Secretary of State to impact my business in a way that was so significant, I considered closing my doors. It was causing me to lose money rapidly, and I could not see a way for the business to survive. My voice was not being heard, I felt helpless, so I called Jerry. It was a Friday afternoon. He was so upset to learn my story. I remember him saying, “I hate hearing stories like that, send me an email right now with all of the details.” By Monday morning that email made it on the desk of Jesse White himself, Illinois Secretary of State, and my problem had swiftly been resolved. I felt so protected and so proud.
I know there are so many Chicagoans who have similar stories, and I would love to hear them. Please post them in the comment section if you care to share.
RIP Jerry. Thank you for your mentorship, friendship and your tireless contribution to the City of Chicago. I miss you, I love you, and I will never forget you.