SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE, Va. – This August will mark the end of an era as Vicki Gardner steps down as executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“To do this, I flew on the wings of our boards of directors, exceptional staff, members, sponsors, a virtual ‘army’ of volunteers and my incredible husband, Tim, to move our organization from nearly closing its doors in 2002 to the thriving chamber we have today. To be truthful, I only intended to ‘help out’ for about six months, with a goal of getting the ‘train back on its tracks’ before moving on to a ‘real’ job,” said Gardner.
Gardner took over as Executive Director of the lake's Regional Chamber of Commerce thinking it would only be for six months.
"So there I find myself a year, five years, 15 years, 17 years into this and I have loved every single minute of it," said Gardner.
Board Chair Lindsey Coley says the chamber almost had to close its doors until Gardner took over, who worked to extend tourism season, add events and grow the chamber from 187 members to 750.
"Using all of her efforts to market, making more people come, more businesses came -- the lake wouldn't be the same without Vicki Gardner," said Coley.
On August 26, 2015 during a live tv interview about tourism at the lake, Gardner and two journalists were shot. Gardner survived.
"It was the community that gathered around and said, 'we will not be defined by this.' That was all it took," said Gardner. "I'm going to give it all that I have."
Gardner returned to work, thanks to the strength of the community and her family.
Her daughters made this collage out of cards she received from around the world. Though her recovery is far from over.
"I've had a lot of surgeries and they've taken a toll," said Gardner. "I'm just not good for a 15 hour day like I used to be."
So she made the tough decision to step down for her health -- but not retire.
Gardner say she's going to keep advocating for the lake and the community that kept her going.
"It's going to be a whole new adventure and I'm ready for it," said Gardner.
Gardner said many of her proudest accomplishments center on finding ways to extend the season for
Smith Mountain Lake, thereby assisting businesses who rely on tourism year-round.
“I plan to remain involved with the chamber, in government affairs and various community projects such as the proposed Smith Mountain Lake Center and passenger rail stop in Bedford,” said Gardner.
The chair of the chamber's board of directors, Lindsey Coley, said a search for Gardner’s replacement will begin immediately.