AS swansongs go, it was spectacular.
As they walked into a darkened entertainment centre, the only illumination from twinkling fairy lights from table centrepieces fashioned from old birdcages, guests were serenaded in by almost mystical didgeridoo and guitar. The anticipation was palpable.
Slowly, the stage curtains parted to reveal musician William Barton under a spotlight on the stage. It was almost as if guests were gathering for a huge live performance – just the atmosphere event organiser Linda Marquis wanted.
The 2013 Shoalhaven Business Excellence Awards will be remembered as one of the best and also the last one put together by Mrs Marquis, who will now bow out of a job that has consumed her for the past eight years.
“I’ve been working with the business chamber in one form or another since 2008, organising the expo and business awards for the last four years and organising the chamber’s super dinners,” she said.
She had been working for the then Shoalhaven Industry Business Association before it merged with the Nowra Chamber of Commerce to become the Shoalhaven Business Chamber.
“I knew that the Nowra Chamber of Commerce had received a state government grant to run two business expos – Shoalhaven on Show – and only one had been run when the amalgamation happened.
They had to run the second one or their money had to go back to the state government.”
Secretary manager of the Bomaderry Bowling Club Garry Wilbraham had just been elected as the new chamber’s president. Mrs Marquis took the initiative and wrote to Mr Wilbraham proposing that she run the second Shoalhaven on Show expo.
Her feet have barely touched the ground ever since.
“It’s been a labour of love for want of a better word. There have been many weeks, particularly during the past four years, when it’s been seven days a week and it’s certainly never been a 35 to 40 hour week. The majority of the time it’s been 60-plus hours a week.
“But I’ve enjoyed it – it’s been great.”
Those long hours and intense workloads were made worthwhile by the people with whom she had regular contact.
“I’ve met some amazing people, among them Chance Hanlon and John Lamont, who are quite inspiring. They are amazing in their own rights.
“I loved working with Chance when he was president. He was always full of great ideas and was always supportive of those ideas. He never asked you to do anything that he wasn’t prepared to back or support. And John was the same.
“I know I’m a fair bit older than both of them but I respect them greatly for the way they go about their business and the way they nurtured workers, particularly the younger generation.”
She also paid tribute to women who had become role models, including Fay Lamont and Beverly Bloomfield, “who have been in very male dominated industries and undertaken some real ground breaking work on behalf of the local business community”.
Her husband John, she said, had always been supportive and given her the freedom to explore her interests
Mrs Marquis scotched any notion that, at 63, she would be retiring. There’s still the Berry Post Office to run and she has taken on marketing and consultancy roles with the Shoalhaven and Kiama community colleges.
And she’ll be kept busy as a bee with her continuing roles with the highly successful Shoalhaven Women’s Conference, its spin-off Women’s Personal Development Grant and the Shoalhaven Education Fund.
But with her chamber duties behind her, maybe – just maybe – she’ll squeeze in time to visit her far flung children and grandchildren.
One thing is certain, though, the Shoalhaven business community will miss her boundless energy and commitment.