I’m originally from a very small town in Illinois called Danville. Our claim to fame is the Van Dyke brothers are from there. Gene Hackman is from there, and we have Joe Tanner, who’s an astronaut. Bobby Short. Being from a small-town setting like that I really valued the sense of community. I really liked that I was able to live in this urban metropolitan area, but by being located in Arlington and by having this opportunity to work for the chamber, it’s so much more of a small-town feel. I love going out to a restaurant and grabbing the manager or being able to say hi to the owner. You run into people you know everywhere. Some people ask about it: “Oh man, you can’t go to the store without running into someone you know.” But I love it. It’s great.
What’s interesting is, I was never replaced along the way, if that makes sense. My role just grew and grew. Rich Doud was our president before me. He just gave me so many wonderful opportunities. He was with the chamber for 231 / 2 years, so quite a legacy.
Then over the years I’ve picked up a lot of responsibilities that were well beyond anything in a formal job description. When he made me vice president, that was really more of a recognition of what I was already doing.
I have a lot of drive in me. Anything I do I’m going to do to my utmost ability. One of the things going through the search process that they said made me stand out was my true passion for the organization. I feel so strongly about the chamber and all the great work we do, but I would never work anywhere where I didn’t feel strongly about the mission and what the group was doing.
We found out about Rich’s retirement in January. My initial thoughts were, I think I can do the role. I think I can do it well, but I did have to do some thinking about, “Is this going to get too complicated or messy for me if I want to stay no matter what,” which was my plan. I knew I wanted to stay regardless of what happened. I realized that I would always regret it if I didn’t at least put my hat in the ring.
I think the search committee initially planned on hiring somebody from the outside. They did this whole national search with a search firm, a very long process that we went through. In the end, with me now in this position, it’s helpful to me because it shows that anybody who has doubt of, okay, why did they go with this person who is just there, who is younger, does she have the experience? Is she qualified? By having gone through that whole process, we can say with confidence we looked at everyone. Everybody stood toe to toe against each other and they were able to evaluate what each person had to offer.
— Interview with Kathy Orton
Position: President and chief executive of Arlington Chamber of Commerce, a voluntary, nonprofit organization of businesses and professional people committed to the economic prosperity and civic well-being of Arlington.
Career highlights: Vice president, director of member services and development and member services manager, Arlington Chamber of Commerce; program associate, Women in Government.
Education: BA, international affairs and political science, George Washington University
Personal: Lives in Arlington.