By Thomas Sellers Jr.
As the clock struck 11 a.m. last Friday, they started to trickle in one by one into the offices of the Millington Area Chamber of Commerce.
From City Manager Ed Haley to Millington Mayor Terry Jones, they all came by the facility to express gratitude to outgoing Millington Chamber Executive Director Dianne Baker. Back in 2011, Baker stepped into the role on an interim basis to help during the transition phase.
As the Millington Chamber moved offices and was looking to expand forming a collation with other Mid-South Chambers, Baker basically took on the job as a volunteer. Learning on the fly and with the help of her right-hand girl Murph Carver. Eventually Baker was able to remove the interim label and become the face of the Millington Area Chamber of Commerce.
Her seven-year run came to an end Friday after she announced her resignation in May.
“Bittersweet, I could cry but I have on gray nail polish for the gray I feel inside for today,” Baker said. “But I have on bright pink and red for the rosy outlook for what is to come for me and my Bob. Traveling and hoping to have a good time, I’m going to be 72 this year. How long do you work?”
Since earning her undergraduate degree from North Alabama, Baker has been a part of the workforce. Shortly after that she married Bob Baker and they will celebrate their 48th anniversary in July.
“We’ll be able to travel some more,” Dianne said. “I’ll be able to play Bridge some more. I’ll be able to have lunch with friends. We’ll be able to just have a relaxing time.
“We won’t have to worry about getting up, beating the clock out the door just to get to a meeting,” she continued. “So I’m looking forward to less stress. This is a stressful job. It’s politics and that’s not always fun. But it’s a necessary evil.”
Baker was able to work alongside elected officials like Terry Jones, Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland, Rep. Ron Lollar and more building up Flag City. Baker was essential in efforts to get national and local businesses in Millington.
Her office was right down the hall from Millington Industrial Development Board Executive Director Charles Gulotta. She was a phone call away from giving insight to Millington Aldermen.
“Millington has been good to Bob and I,” she said. “I have received proclamations. I’ve received cards, letters, e-mails, flowers, gift bags. It’s been very humbling to know that people have cared what you have done. It’s exciting and appreciated. In 30 days people won’t even remember who Dianne Baker is.”
Baker chuckled as she said that. But with tears welling up in her eyes, Baker said her desk full of sentiments made her realize her seven years with the Chamber had an impact on others.
“Very humbled,” she said. “I’m insignificant compared to the world. We need more people to be more compassionate. Something said to me the other day that meant so much to me, ‘People will not remember what you say. People may not remember what you do. But people will remember how you made them feel.’
“People have made me feel really, really special,” she added. “I have been a recipient of that and I hope I have given it back. I love every single one of our Chamber members. I can literally say I love every one of our members. I want them to succeed. I want their businesses to succeed. I want Millington to succeed.”
Baker emphasized that Millington’s success means victories for Memphis and other suburban cities in Shelby County.
“Millington now is being recognized outside of our little-bitty domain,” she said. “We’re on the lips of a lot of people. And It’s because of the leadership in the city. I just happened to be a part of that. I just love being able to go outside of the city and tell people, ‘I am from Millington, Tennessee.’”
Flag City has seen 100 additional businesses open since Baker took over the role of executive director. She said Millington is ready and posed for more growth. A literal sign of that potential was recently celebrated with the unveiling of the Veterans Parkway business sign made possible by EDGE.
“I don’t want anyone to step on us,” Baker said. “I’m just proud of Millington. Bob and I both graduated from Millington. We were gone for 35 years. We came home to retire. We chose to come back to Millington. We have things wrong with us just like everybody else. But we are good people and we have so many positives.
“When you give me a job and ask me to do it and I tell you I will do it, I am going to do it to the best of my ability,” she continued. “It’s a work ethic that has been engrained in me. I hope you can say you can count on my word. If I say I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it. I will do it with kindness. But if I have to be stern and say no, I will.”
Baker said accountability has helped Millington grow this past decade. In that boom, Flag City has seen the success of entities like the YMCA, Millington Municipal Schools and the Chamber.
“The Millington Area Chamber of Commerce, so we just don’t have members within our area,” Baker noted. “We have members all the way to Las Vegas. We have members in South Tipton, Bartlett and everywhere else. It’s important that we work together, collaborative. These are our partners.
“Memphis International Raceway puts a lot of money in our town with their events,” she added. “So if I have to be a welcoming committee for them, I will as long as it is going to enhance my business people — their bottom line. If I need to go to the Bank of Bartlett to talk about a $60,000 video that the Chamber Alliance is going to be doing with grant money we’re receiving from EDGE, I need to be a part of that.”
Baker said as Millington is strengthen, it will benefit all of Shelby County and the Mid-South.
“Millington needs to be a part of that,” she said. “If we don’t have a spokesperson within our Shelby County Chamber Alliance, Bartlett, Lakeland, Arlington, Germantown, Collierville and Millington we’ve got to work together. We’ve just have to keep Millington’s name out there.”
As Baker departs from her role, she leaves with Millington working on new projects, lining up more businesses and growing the Flag City brand.
“I think the most important thing for me is I hope they remember me as a lady who loves the Lord and tried to do His will,” Baker said. “I love my fantastic husband Bob, the Chamber of Commerce and Millington. He chose me for this season and this time to be a leader for Millington. And it’s been a great honor to do that.
“Even though today is my last day, it is not the last day for the Millington Area Chamber of Commerce,” she concluded. “We’ve got a great future. I know our Board of Directors is going to chose the right person. I’m still going to be around if they need help. All they have to do is call. This is still my city and always will.”
By Thomas Sellers Jr.