Chamber of commerce's new leader: Mystic 'close to my heart'

Peggy Roberts, the new president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, is seen at Mystic Aquarium on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Peggy Roberts, the new president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, is seen at Mystic Aquarium on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Mystic — A Stonington woman with a background in corporate and political communications has been named the new president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce.

Peggy Roberts, who while in Alabama was on a team of reporters that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for a series of stories on infant mortality, was introduced to the community Thursday during the annual chamber membership meeting at Mystic Aquarium.

"Mystic has been close to my heart ever since I was a little girl," Roberts told the audience of about 100. "I love it more than ever."

Roberts, a University of Connecticut graduate and former senior director of communications and media for the tobacco giant Altria Group, spent summers with her family on Lords Point. She grew up in Norwich and took her first job as a reporter covering Franklin, Bozrah and Lebanon for The Norwich Bulletin.

Roberts was chosen after a six-month search and three-month vetting process that involved culling through more than 100 applications, said Stephen J. Clemente, chairman of the board for the Mystic chamber.

After Tricia Walsh's abrupt departure as chamber president this past April, the organization debated a possible merger with the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce that serves Westerly and Pawcatuck or a partnership with the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce.

Instead, the board named retired Hewlett Packard executive Bill Smith interim president as it considered "new policies, structure and control," according to the letter to members sent out in June.

"How do you re-establish trust in this organization," Smith said was one of his initial goals.

He went about an aggressive campaign to improve the organization's financial health, which had been in decline for a number of years. He also went about trying to make the chamber more relevant by moving it on Nov. 1 out of the Packer Building and establishing offices on Greenmanville Avenue across from Mystic Seaport, where a visitors center also is located.

"You guys are hidden away; no one can find you" were some of the complaints Smith said he wanted addressed right away.

The new role of the Mystic chamber, said Smith and Clemente, is to direct visitors to the appropriate attractions once people are in town.

The board had a meeting earlier this week, Clemente confirmed, to discuss the Eastern chamber's recent announcement that it was taking over local tourism marketing and decided that its organization is fine with taking on a more local role.

Among other things, this will allow the chamber to create itineraries for people looking to stay in the Mystic region rather than directly trying to sell to tourists in Boston and New York on the idea of coming here, he said.

l.howard@theday.com

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