Former Orange County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Barbara Bannar passed away Sunday morning after a long battle with cancer.
Born March 8, 1950, Bannar, who moved to Orange County in 1985, was appointed executive director of the chamber Dec. 18, 1991. She began her career in chamber work at the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce where she served as the vice president of membership and communications for three years. Her background included sales and marketing in real estate, advertising and tourism. She also served as the director of the Fredericksburg Public Relations Society and in 1991 was awarded the Fredericksburg DECCA Outstanding Service Award for her contributions in establishing a regional cooperative education program for the hospitality industry.
Bannar served nearly 22 years as executive director of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce before resigning in April. In her work with the chamber, she either introduced or expanded most of its community events including the Montpelier Wine Festival, Wine Wings and Wheels Festival, the Orange County Business and Industry Reception and the Orange Street Festival. The chamber also hosted the Orange Holiday Parade before turning that over to the Orange Rotary Club in recent years.
“I’ve been very lucky to have progressive chamber board members who advocate for the county’s economic best interests,” she said in April. “They’ve had such foresight for long-term economic growth.”
Following her resignation, Bannar was recognized with a board of supervisors’ resolution honoring her long-time commitment to Orange County’s economic growth and development and her lasting impact on the community.
“Barbara led the Chamber as its executive director from 1991 until poor health prompted her retirement earlier this year,” Orange County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors member Sean Gregg said. “She attended over 300 ribbon cuttings, organized more than 20 street festivals, attended countless public hearings, and helped teach many of us how to advocate for business interests by reaching out to our elected officials. She was the first person to introduce herself to me when I returned home 20 years ago. She will be missed.”
“Barbara gave her heart and soul to the chamber of commerce and to Orange County for more than 20 years and will be greatly missed by all that knew her,” Orange County Tourism Manager Leigh Mawyer added. “She was a friend, colleague, mentor and a fighter to so many who knew her well and no words can describe this tremendous loss.”
“I first met Barbara through the chamber,” current treasurer Tom Woolfolk added. “I will always remember her organizational skills, her ability to plan and run events and her innate perceptions that allowed her to form friendships and establish connections. People may not remember all she accomplished as executive director, which is too bad, but I know I will remember her as a person of resolute character and a trusted friend.”
In addition to her work with the chamber, in recent years, Bannar was instrumental in establishing a connection between the community and the schools, helping to reestablish the Orange County Education Foundation. The foundation supports education throughout the county at the public schools, Grymes Memorial School and Germanna Community College. Bannar most recently served on the foundation’s board of directors as the secretary.
“There are few people who get 'it’ when it comes to ‘small town economic development’ the way that Barbara ‘got it,’” Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Bob Grimesey said. “Few people understand the intimate connection between quality schools and economic development the way Barbara understood it. And there were no more assertive advocates of 21st century career and technical education programs than Barbara. She was a dear friend and a well-informed advisor. We will miss her. I will miss her.”
Bannar, 63, is survived by her husband of 28 years, George A. Bannar; a son, Sergeant Major George A. Bannar, Jr., U.S. Army and his wife Michelle; her mother, Doris Hilton; and brother, Bill King of Fort Worth, TX.
A visitation will be held Friday, July 5, 4-8 p.m. at Johnson Funeral Home in Locust Grove, with a memorial service to follow at 8 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to Martha Jefferson Cancer Center at www.mjhcancer.org.