Max Austin-Williams, Executive Director of Downtown Oak Park (photo credit: DTOP website)

It is hard to say good-bye to a colleague who has made a significant, positive impact.  Even harder to say good-bye to a friend.

Max Austin-Williams, Executive Director of Downtown Oak Park, is leaving this month to relocate to Australia with his husband Rob.  I grant that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and of course they should take advantage of it – but knowing that they are making the right choice does not make it any easier to see them go.

Max accepted the leadership of our largest business district merchant association in 2012, just about six months before I joined the Chamber in 2013.  By the end of 2013, Tammie Grossman was named head of the Village of Oak Park’s Development Customer Services Department.  Around the same time, Sara Barnett took over the Visit Oak Park tourism bureau while the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation morphed into its current configuration under the leadership of John Lynch and Viktor Schrader.  Within eighteen months, we turned over all the major business support leadership roles in town.

Even now, some four years into it, I still feel like we are the new kids on the block, a single cohort, linked by tenure as well as our shared commitment to collaboration across our organizations.  Incredibly, that was not always the case, as just five years ago these organizations operated in silos that made meaningful cooperation difficult.

Change is good.  Without change in leadership and mission, we might not have gotten to this good place – a collegial, supportive, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of team where we are all working in lock-step to improve the local economy.

But change doesn’t feel so good right now, as I prepare for an Oak Park without Max.  Professional, creative, curious and accountable, Max showed up daily with no agenda other than enhancing the vitality of Downtown Oak Park.  Under Max’s leadership, DTOP enjoyed top-notch marketing, events, advocacy efforts, development support, landscaping and décor and even profitability.

Max made my job easier, offering advice, moral support and even tactical help.  I expect DTOP will say they have big shoes to fill.  For my part, I will miss my friend.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...