Hartgrove retires following distinguished public service in Chamber, ECD work

COOKEVILLE – Long-time chamber executive and valued community member, Lillian Hartgrove, retired from the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce effective March 31. Hartgrove leaves the chamber after more than 12 years as Vice President of Workforce Development and Education under the Highlands Economic Partnership Organization. 

“Years ago, Lillian was serving as vice chair of organizational development on the chamber board and upon her retirement from Suntrust, she commented that she was looking forward to investing herself fully into the community, serving in whatever role she was tasked with,” said former chamber CEO George Halford. “At the time, Joe Albrecht and I came to her, insisting that while we had no additional funds for the position, she was needed as an ally within our community and more specifically, within our chamber staff. She agreed and her time as a valued communitarian began. She is the truest epitome of what a civic servant is, an integral yet modest cog in the wheel of community prosperity.” 

A native of Bay Saint Louis, Miss., Hartgrove began her career with Suntrust Bank, progressing through the ranks to become Group Vice President before retiring from the banking industry to begin her career in economic development with the Highlands Economic Partnership. In this role, Hartgrove was tasked with assisting in the overall economic recovery of the region following the 2008 recession. In 2012, she transitioned into her role as Vice President of Workforce Development and Education. 

TTU President Emeritus Robert Bell commented, “Lillian is thoughtful, compassionate, energetic and driven to make a difference. As Vice President for Economic Development and Vice President for Workforce Development, she played an integral part in shaping the economic and workforce strategies of the chamber and the Highlands region. She has made a profound and lasting impact on the work of the chamber and, indeed, the work of our state.”

Through her career, Hartgrove has served as a community representative on various local as well as statewide boards, most notably, the State Board of Education. As of February, she was elected to serve a two-year term as the chairwoman of the governing and policy-making body for Tennessee elementary and secondary schools. 

“One of the challenges of a statewide board is staying aware and connected to the reality our students face and Lillian does just that,” noted Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Mike Krause. “As a leader, Lillian is a guiding force of cohesion within the state board, she has an innate ability to mold many different backgrounds, opinions and discussions into a message of solidarity, all while never losing sight of the on the ground impact needed within the classroom.” 

Following in Hartgrove’s formidable footsteps is Kaitlin Salyer, a native of Lafayette. Salyer has served the Highlands as the coordinator of Workforce Development and Education under Hartgrove’s leadership for the past three years before stepping into the role of Director of Workforce Development and Education. 

“It has been a privilege to work alongside Lillian and learn under her mentorship,” said Salyer. “She always guided our team a with purpose, and she garnered respect as a leader because of her kind heart, selfless nature and dedication to helping others. It is an honor to work with our partners to continue the impactful work Lillian started while at the Highlands.”

One community member noted, “In life, there are difference makers and there are people who make a difference. History will smile on Hartgrove’s legacy and this community will remember her as a true soldier for children’s welfare as well as someone who deserves insurmountable credit and commendation for the commitment she had and continues to have in our region.” 

The chamber board is looking forward to the days far removed from the COVID-19 pandemic, when they can publicly honor Hartgrove in the appropriate fashion.  

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