After more than 11 years, Mary Lou Palumbo has retired as the executive director of the Mashpee Chamber of Commerce.
Ms. Palumbo announced her retirement at the end of 2020, eclipsing a decade-long tenure at the chamber during which she fostered a sense of community among Mashpee’s businesses, residents and visitors.
“I have never ever worked in a community where everybody really helps each other,” Ms. Palumbo said, describing the decision to accept the executive director position as “one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Linda Steele, the president of the chamber, said that there are no immediate plans to fill the executive director position due to budgetary restrains and changes in workload due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms. Palumbo said that when she first started as executive director in May 2009, she knew very few people in Mashpee.
“I didn’t know anyone locally because I commuted for 16 years to Rhode Island and other places,” she said. “So when I got the job at the chamber, it was like the whole world opened up for me; I got to know so many people.”
Ms. Palumbo recalled giving a speech at the chamber’s annual dinner about two weeks after being hired as the executive director. The speech, in which she parodied “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus, was one of Ms. Palumbo’s earliest interactions with the Mashpee community and chamber membership.
“It was a great beginning because I had a fabulous board,” Ms. Palumbo said of her early days at the chamber. “We really worked together over the years to build the Mashpee Chamber; it was a team effort.”
Ms. Steele said it did not take long for Ms. Palumbo to forge connections in the community after being hired.
“Her personality, really, made it easy for her to be successful,” Ms. Steele said. “She helped the chamber to evolve to a different level.”
Ms. Steele said Ms. Palumbo took a holistic approach to the executive director position by connecting not only with the chamber’s membership but also with nonprofits such as the Boys & Girls Club and Heroes In Transition as well as municipal boards such as Mashpee’s Substance Use Task Force.
“She realized none of us works in a tunnel; we are a part of one community,” Ms. Steele said. “She was very proactive that way; she had no hesitation going out to the community and introducing herself.”
Ms. Palumbo engaged with the chamber’s members, assessed their needs and attended meetings of the Mashpee Board of Selectmen and other town committees on behalf of the chamber, Ms. Steele said.
As the Town of Mashpee updated town bylaws related to signage in recent years, Ms. Palumbo helped businesses engage in the public dialogue and have their interests heard.
“One of my biggest challenges was the sign bylaws,” Ms. Palumbo said. “It’s a two-way street. The businesses have to understand that there are rules that they need to abide by, and the town needs to recognize there are some tweaks to make to help businesses.”
With the new bylaws passed in the fall of 2018, Ms. Palumbo said, “I think we’re very close to getting [the sign bylaws] resolved.”
“We’ve worked very hard with the town, and the town is great,” she said.
Selectwoman Carol A. Sherman, who serves as the board’s liaison to the chamber of commerce, described Ms. Palumbo as “very fun; very, very fun.”
“[Ms. Palumbo] loves to come up with very creative ideas to make things work,” Ms. Sherman said. “She’s very organized. She did a great job. I’m glad she’s moving on to her next journey in life.”
Ms. Sherman recalled the chamber of commerce’s annual holiday parade, the La Tavola “Italian feast” the chamber would host annually and the “Season of Illumination” holiday lights at the Mashpee Rotary that the chamber coordinated in conjunction with the town.
“It came out beautiful, everything she did,” Ms. Sherman said.
“[The chamber] brought everybody together,” she said. “When there is someone in need it is amazing how they all have stepped up, even during COVID.”
Ms. Steele said Ms. Palumbo “went above and beyond” as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Mashpee businesses in 2020.
Ms. Palumbo coordinated with businesses as federal and state aid became available for businesses through programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, Ms. Steele said.
In a year that saw the cancellations of usual events like the holiday parade and the chambers annual dinner, Ms. Steele said Ms. Palumbo helped “foster a community feeling” by helping the chamber host a socially distanced golf tournament and making the Season of Illumination at the rotary better than ever.
“It was nice to see some consistency during a time of inconsistency,” Ms. Steele said.
Ms. Palumbo said she has “so many memories” from her time at the chamber of commerce. She plans to continue to engage in the community while also spending more time with her parents and family.
“We became a chamber that we are all very very proud of,” she said. “The chamber will be a great part of my life; I enjoyed every part of it.”
As the chamber of commerce and Mashpee community advances into 2021, Ms. Palumbo said, “I just want people to remember that it is so important to shop local and keep supporting businesses that are the heartbeat of the community.”
“A great big thank you goes out to this community. They made me feel so helpful and welcome,” she said. “I didn’t know anybody; now I have so many friends.”