Although Brenda Durham started shadowing Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce president Claire Luke only a month ago on May 3, Durham has been to more than a hundred community events, ranging from Chamber networking mixers to Rotary Club meetings to Fairfax City Council sessions. In spite of the flurry of activity, Durham said she is loving every minute.
"I like people. And this is a great job to get to know people," said Durham, referring to the presidency that Luke is vacating.
Starting this week, Durham is the Chamber's new president and chief executive officer. She takes the place of Luke, who, after 16 years of service to the Chamber, is retiring to spend more time with her husband and family.
Durham, a North Carolina native who lived in the Fairfax area from 1967-98, looks forward to heading the Central Fairfax Chamber, which serves Fairfax City.
"I really consider Fairfax home," said Durham, who added that her two grown sons live in the area with their families. "It's like coming home rather than starting a new venture here."
BEFORE moving back to Fairfax, Durham was living in Reidsville, N.C., taking care of her mother. She grew up in Reidsville but moved to Fairfax in 1967. Her husband was a police officer with the City of Fairfax Police, and her two children graduated from Fairfax County Public Schools. Durham worked in international marketing for US Air, and was also a lobbyist for Concerned Women of America.
After moving to North Carolina in 1998, she became president of the chambers of commerce in Reidsville and Lexington. As president, she was active in the Carolinas Chamber of Commerce, which serves the two states, as well as the Piedmont Triangle Chamber.
Durham also became involved with an annual barbecue festival in Lexington, a city that dubs itself the "Barbecue Capital of the World." The festival, which recently celebrated its 20th year and saw 175,000 visitors, featured five stages of entertainment and 150,000 pounds of barbecue, which sold out by 2 p.m.
"It was a great marketing tool, and it was a good community event for the city," Durham said.
With her return to Fairfax, Durham looks forward to spending more time with her grandchildren, as well as expanding the scope of the Central Fairfax Chamber to include businesses beyond city limits.
"There are a lot of other businesses that have grown up that we could really help," Durham said.
She also anticipates getting involved with the Chocolate Lovers Festival in February.
"I'm hoping they'll let me eat chocolate," Durham joked.
Durham's first full day as Chamber president was Tuesday, June 1.
"Anybody who's got Chamber experience and loves it will do a good job," said former president Luke. "She's moving into a tremendous organization."
Central Fairfax Chamber chair Steve Lomicka agreed. "She brings a lot of experience to the table," he said.
NOW THAT she has more free time, one of the activities Claire Luke wants to do in retirement is to take a sign language course.
"It's a beautiful language, and I'd like to be able to use it sometime," Luke said.
Luke steps down as president of the Central Fairfax Chamber after 16 years. Looking back through that period, Luke said she has enjoyed meeting new people, watching businesses start up from nothing, and witnessing the Chamber's growth in membership.
"[It has been] fantastic. I've never, ever felt I didn't want to be at work," Luke said.
She said the highlights of her tenure have been starting the Business Showcase and watching it grow from a Christmas luncheon to an April event at the Patriot Center, and setting up events and brainstorming sessions with other area chambers.
She was also thankful for the increasing involvement of the Chamber's members, whether through event attendance or committee participation.
"They really support the staff and the idea of a chamber," Luke said.
During retirement, she plans to spend more time with her husband, who is also retired. They would like to enjoy some of the local activities and sights, such as attending concerts in Fairfax City and at the Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts, before eventually moving to California to be nearer to their children.
"She has just been a stalwart with the Chamber and Fairfax," Lomicka said.