At our May Board meeting, Gene Gargaro, DIA Board Chair, announced he was stepping down from his post. He did it in the Smith Crystal Gallery in front of a crowded room and with his wife Mary Anne in attendance. In his typical style, he cracked a couple of jokes, shared to-the-point remarks, and thanked everyone for their support. The moment he was done, everyone in the room stood up and applauded.
There are few cases in life where saying “thank you” seems not enough. This is clearly one of those. After his 20 years of extraordinarily devoted service to the institution, it feels as if words will not do justice at describing the profound sense of gratitude we have for Gene. Over the last few weeks, I have heard many say they got involved with the DIA because of Gene. These statements were always emotional, and I second that emotion. My relationship with Gene and Mary Anne is one of the main reasons my wife, Alex, and I have stayed in Detroit all these years. It is not easy to find great leaders, but when you do, you follow them.
Email inboxes are a sort of archive of our times. I did a search for Gene’s address and found emails from him dating back to my early years at the DIA. Those first notes were about engaging people, raising awareness of our great museum and, of course, fundraising. It is amazing to see that he has kept his focus for so long and continued to do it in the kindest of ways. I believe many will agree with me when I say that Gene is one of the nicest people we know. He is a living example of the value of humility and hard work. From time to time over the past 15 years, we would meet for breakfast at one of the Pancake Houses in metro Detroit. At one of these breakfasts, where we never actually ate pancakes, I was whining about something and feeling low. He listened to me patiently, and instead of just cheering me up, he gracefully showed me that it is better to feel upbeat and positive, and of course, show leadership in times of difficulty. This is something I will dearly remember. He has been the best boss I could have wished for and a generous mentor.
The search for our next Board Chair is being led by Bonnie Larson, our Chair of Governance and Nominating committee. Following the museum bylaws, we have an equitable and inclusive process in place, designed to identify a candidate whose skill set will align with the DIA’s needs and who will help us define our future. We are at a remarkable point in the DIA’s history: the museum has expanded, we are fiscally strong, our collection is secured forever thanks to skillful navigation during the city’s bankruptcy, and the two regional millages have transformed us financially and as a community-engaged organization. I thank Gene for these and other amazing successes.
Whoever becomes the next DIA Board Chair has a phenomenal foundation on which to build and a passionate staff with which to work. The DIA team looks forward to the opportunity to bringing the museum to the next level of accomplishment so we can continue to serve our communities locally, nationally, and internationally. In the meantime, hats off to Gene!