Rose Quinn has long been a fixture at the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce — often seen bustling around hotel conference rooms or skillfully circumnavigating banquet tables to make sure the organization’s latest shindig goes off without a hitch.
It’s work that’s kept her busy and, more often than not, out of the public eye.
But on Wednesday, the woman who jokes her middle name should be “behind the scenes” found herself in the spotlight as dozens of well-wishers and community leaders gathered at Plums Cafe + Catering in Eastside Costa Mesa to celebrate her retirement after almost 30 years at the chamber, most recently as its director of operations.
During her time with the business-advocacy group, Quinn, 64, has worn just about every hat imaginable — sales, collections, event planning, public relations, even helping spearhead its early internet and social media efforts.
While it hasn’t always been the easiest or most lucrative work, it’s been plenty rewarding in her mind.
“It’s been a great run … I love the sense of neighborhood and the sense of community and the sense of belonging,” she said Wednesday, her last day on the job. “The chamber always provided me that.”
Chamber Chief Executive Eileen Benjamin described Quinn as a local icon and called her the “wind beneath” the organization’s wings.
“She’s someone who’s made a huge difference, I think, in business development,” Benjamin said Wednesday. “And there’s no one that cares more about the city and cares more about our work ... she took care of us and our businesses. She really cared.”
A native of Washington, Quinn spent many of her formative years in Spokane and Seattle.
It was by happenstance that she came to live in California. On one visit to the Southland, she met Ray, the man who she would later marry. The two eventually settled in Huntington Beach and have been married for 32 years.
Her chamber career also started largely by chance. At the urging of a friend, she applied for a job and was hired as a receptionist. That was 28 years ago. Over time, she worked her way up to become a full-time office manager and later moved into her current role.
Looking back, Quinn said she never could have imagined things would turn out as they did. She recalled the time she met with Ed Fawcett — the chamber’s longtime leader — and that he asked her what her future plans were.
“I told him, ‘I like the chamber, I like the people, but I don’t think I’d want to make a career of it,’ ” she said. “And the rest is history.”
During her tenure, she’s seen the chamber’s stature in the community ebb and flow. As social media started to grow in popularity, she recalled hearing people dismiss chambers of commerce as relics of the past.
But, she said, that tide appears to be turning once more.
“People come to us now — they join on our website, they join on the city website because the good, old-fashioned, eye-to-eye networking will never be replaced,” she said. “Relationships, relationship marketing, that’s what I like about the chamber.”
Jennifer Christ, community liaison for the city of Costa Mesa, said Quinn is “going to be so dearly, incredibly missed.”
“On behalf of the entire city staff, I just thank you for your dedication and your commitment to the city,” Christ said during the retirement party.
While the decision to leave was difficult, Quinn said she knows it’s the right time to step away. She and her husband are planning to move to Spokane in the next few months and she’s excited for “a new beginning — like fresh, powdered snow, which I’m hoping to get.”