Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock Chamber of Commerce, calls her friend, Sally Isaacs, “the calm before the storm.”
“No matter what the situation is, she always approaches it with a calm demeanor,” Williams says of the Chamber’s former business manager. “She looks at both sides of the situation with an objective mind and always finds a way to bring people to the middle when decision-making.”
When Isaacs announced her retirement and departure from the Chamber, effective Aug. 28, Williams summarized what she’d miss about her into a single word: everything. During Isaacs’s decade of service, Williams admired her level-headedness, professionalism, dedication and ability to see the big picture.
“She is an amazing, compassionate leader who has left her mark on Hancock County,” Williams says.
When Isaacs came to the Coast from Kentucky, via Starkville, she was doing business at Williams’s brother’s law firm, Haas and Haas Attorneys. She told him she wanted to get involved in the community, and he referred her to Tish.
Isaacs started as a volunteer, helping garner support for a grant the Chamber was applying for with the Economic Development Administration.
“She went door to door and gathered the signatures to support the grant to establish a Business Resource Recovery Center (BRRC) in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill,” Williams says. “Next, we put her to work organizing the 200 booths and vendors for the annual Bridgefest in Old Town (Bay St. Louis).”
From there, Isaacs helped with the front desk, meeting and greeting visitors. When the Chamber secured the grant, she managed the BRRC, providing technical assistance for small businesses, in addition to managing a $500,000 grant to provide technical assistance and grants for fishermen across the Coast in response to the oil spill.
When the business manager position opened, Isaacs moved into that role and also oversaw the Job Generation Fund, a $3 million, low-interest forgivable loan program that helped 44 small businesses rebuild after Katrina.
She provided staff support to the Education Committee as well, which honors 250 local teachers with a special dinner each year. Since 2009, it has awarded 121 grants totaling $54,000. The committee also arranges an annual breakfast for high school seniors, motivating them as they graduate and registering them to vote.
“She also enjoyed staffing Leadership Hancock,” Williams says. “This program provides information and skills-building for emerging leaders in Hancock County.” Since its inception in 1996, she adds, the program has graduated close to 500 leaders.
Outside of work, Isaacs volunteers with the community garden and other organizations. Williams notes that she chose to retire to enjoy traveling with her husband, Mark, to all the places on their bucket list.
“Whether they’re eating lobster or on a wildlife safari, we want Sally and Mark to know that no matter how far they may roam, they can always call the Bay home,” Williams says.
In announcing her decision to her colleagues, Isaacs emphasized that she wasn’t leaving the area, so she’d still see everyone around the community.
“I am so thankful for the many friends who I met through the Chamber,” she said in her departure message. “I value the time I have spent working with all of you and the friendships that will continue.”