Untimely Death Sparks Thoughts of Life

Former Salem Area Chamber President Mike McLaran died on Easter weekend, leaving a legacy of leadership, commitment and trust.Whenever there is a death of a friend, thoughts often travel ironically to the meaning of life. Such is the case as Salem-area community leader Mike McLaran died of a heart attack while jogging last weekend at age 53.

McLaran, who retired a couple years ago as the admired CEO of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, embodied traits in life to which all of us can aspire. Tributes have poured in from throughout the Mid-Willamette Valley from all sorts of residents who found Mike be an inspiring leader who didn't take credit for accomplishments, but deflected credit to others, often mentoring them to make contributions of their own.

In a column in the Statesman-Journal, Editorial Page Editor Dick Hughes said, "One mark of a leader is the ability to recognize, understand and learn from one’s mistakes — and to forgive. Mike exemplified these traits. In later years, he and I sometimes talked about how we could have handled situations differently. Mike was a leader, whether during his 16 years as CEO of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, in his subsequent community involvement or in his devotion to his family. His death on Saturday hit the community hard. Obviously, that was because he was so involved in the Salem area, so accessible and so appreciated. But I also think it’s because true leadership is so rare."

Hughes went on to suggest that "society offers many pseudo-leaders: People who confuse having titles with exerting leadership. Men and women who lust to be part of the “in” crowd — the movers and shakers — but falsely equate that camaraderie with leadership. People who mistake conducting meetings for making progress. People who manage organizations but don’t lead them."

He pointed out two traits of real leaders — integrity, which "derives from a personal core that is not dependent on outside affirmation and recognition" and valuing time, which is a cherished commodity in everyday life.

I would add a third credential of leadership, one which McLaran embodied fully — "your word is your bond" ethic.  When he said something or promised an action, you could count on it.

In public life these days, that is a credential often missing. At the legislature over the years, those who embodied that ethic — whether legislators, statewide officer holders, state agency officials of lobbyists — could be seen as leaders, regardless of party affiliation or philosophy.

Think about it for a moment. Giving your word and living up to it is critical in all areas of life, including politics.  

One other quality marked McLaran's life and work, as Hughes put it, "He lived his faith without flaunting his faith." That made his passing on Easter Weekend, a time marked by Christians as a time of resurrection, all the more telling.

As McLaran's life is remembered in a memorial service next Monday in Salem, all of us can learn something from his life, his commitments and his humility.


         CFM senior partner Dave Fiskum was a friend of Mike McLaran and admired his contributions to his community. They worked together on a number of projects over the years when Fiskum worked for the state and later in his role as a lobbyist.