Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Ike McLeese, the President & CEO of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, passed away Tuesday.
McLeese led the Chamber for 19 years. He announced earlier this month that he would step down from his duties as CEO at the end of this year.
McLeese suffered a heart attack in September. When he announced plans to retire, McLeese said he would still work with military installations in the Midlands to help them through any future base realignment processes.
Many in the Midlands know McLeese for his leadership helping Midlands military bases avoid cuts in the 2005 rounds of base closings.
McLeese took over the Chamber in 1994. According to his bio on the Chamber's website he brought the Chamber out of a nearly 4 million dollar debt and is credited with making it financially stable.
Recently McLeese helped lead 11 county Chambers of Commerce to come together to form the Midstate Chambers Coalition. They formed to promote the larger Midlands area to businesses after the area was passed over by Southwest Airlines.
McLeese also was part of efforts to get the strong-mayor form of government put on the Columbia election ballot. That special election will take place in December.
Tuesday afternoon Holt Chetwood, Chair of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce released this statement: "Today we are deeply saddened at the loss of Ike McLeese, president and CEO of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Sue and his family, as well as many close friends and associates."
"Ike was always, always focused on his community. He was focused on Richland County, he was focused on the City of Columbia, he was focused on the Midlands," said Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre. "Ike was a true mentor, he really cared to develop talent and I would say that would be one of his legacies, he was a talent developer," said Halfacre.
News19 also spoke with former Columbia Mayor Bob Coble who worked along side McLeese to save the area's military installations. "I think his legacy is going to be leading us through the base closure, or BRAC in 2005 where we thought at the beginning of the process we might lose Fort Jackson. Certainly we were nervous about it," Coble said. "Ike organized us, got everything going and it turns out it was the greatest economic development announcement in the history of our region."
"He was one of those forces in the community that everyone gravitated to, because he had the great personality and he was a humanitarian, he cared so much about the people," said Rich O'Dell, President and General Manger at WLTX.
The Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce had recently launched an effort to identify the person who would have taken over when he retired at the end of the year.