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Perspective: Remembering A Mayor, A Mentor, A Leader

Guy Stephens
John McNamara, 2015

Former mayor John McNamara, who led Rockford for eight years in the 1980s, died last week at 81. He was both a leader and a humble man. I'd always call him Mayor when I saw him because he earned it after all. However, he’d usually correct me and ask me to call him “John.”

He was the keynote speaker some years ago at the Rockford Chamber of Commerce leadership luncheon, which celebrates the graduates of the Chamber’s Leadership Rockford program. What stunned me most that day was not just the power of his words, or even the standing ovation afterwards. It was how he had the audience rapt in their seats. No one moved, no one left early -- had smartphones been a thing back then, I daresay no one would have been looking at theirs. And I remember walking out of that event motivated to do something, anything, that could help me do better and help our community be better. That's what leaders do to people when they speak. And that was what John did.

Mayor John mentored me on several key occasions over the years through career challenges and sharing his insights with me on what Rockford needed to maintain its positive momentum. All who knew him always enjoyed that booming voice and laugh. I grew up with a father who worked in academia. So I was exposed at an early age to PhDs and college deans and presidents, people with gravitas, people who made you sit up straight or stand up tall when they entered the room. That's the type of leader Mayor John McNamara was. He challenged, he motivated, he inspired. Fortunately, he left a legacy of leadership, service, and humility to my boss and his son, current Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara.

While we will miss Mayor John McNamara, those of us who were fortunate enough to know him will forever be better and do better because of him.

I'm Wester Wuori, and that's my perspective.

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