OCTA Past President (1980-1981) Carolyn Chambers is Remembered:
The businesswoman is eulogized as fearless and compassionate
Pioneering businesswoman. Philanthropist. Movie producer. Real estate magnate. World traveler. And a beloved grandmother who is probably doing some of the following in heaven, according to her grandchildren:
“Starting businesses ... buying real estate ... whipping the angels into shape ... hanging out with the Republicans.”
Hundreds of Carolyn Silva Chambers’ close friends and family members chuckled with laughter at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday as Chambers’ daughter-in-law, Karla Chambers, read some of the more colorful suggestions Carolyn Chambers’ 10 grandchildren said about her after her death on Aug. 8, at the age of 79, following a lengthy battle with cancer.
“She has clearly left a footprint in our memories,” Karla Chambers said during the 80-minute service — that took place in the Hult’s Silva Concert Hall, which is named for Carolyn Chambers’ parents — to celebrate her mother-in-law’s life and career. “She raised her children with high expectations. College was a given, early independence expected. Many of her children today are business owners, entrepreneurs and risk-takers.
“This family will go forward with strength due to her love. We have lost a champion and one of Oregon’s greatest, and God just brought up one of our best.”
Born in Portland in 1931 and raised in Eugene where she attended Edison Elementary School, Roosevelt Junior High School and graduated from the old Eugene High School in 1949, Carolyn Chambers was a pioneer in both the communications and construction industries as founder and CEO of Chambers Communications and CEO of Chambers Construction after the death of her husband, Richard Chambers, in 1986.
Just four years after graduating from the University of Oregon in 1953, she borrowed $100,000 from her father, Julio Silva, a successful Chevrolet dealer in Eugene, and pooled that with funds from other investors to launch Liberty Communications.
In 1959, she was granted a license to start Eugene’s second television station, KEZI-TV, which hit the airwaves on Dec. 19, 1960.
The company became Chambers Communications in 1983 after Carolyn Chambers bought KEZI back when Liberty was sold to a Denver company against her will.
“Carolyn was a leader, a philanthropist, a sharp businesswoman, a grandmother, an innovator, a risk-taker, adviser, she was someone who rolled up her sleeves and got right into the action, and all the time cared about people and the television industry, about the arts and education, and about her community,” said ABC World News anchorwoman Diane Sawyer, in a statement recorded at her studio desk in New York City and played during Saturday’s service.
“She was also a television pioneer,” Sawyer said.
“Back in 1959 — think of it, ’59! — at the age of 27, she entered the television business, launching KEZI-TV, because she believed Eugene needed a second television station. And, of course, who needs to point out, women did not do that 50 years ago. But Carolyn did.”
Those who spoke at the service — from U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, the service’s master of ceremonies, to good friend Gretchen Hult Pierce, to her attorney, Roger Saydack — talked not just about what a tenacious, fearless and shrewd businesswoman Chambers was, but also about her caring heart and the countless things she did over the years to serve her community.
“She has stayed with the ill, transported the disabled and comforted those who’ve been recently widowed,” said Pierce, whose parents are the namesake of the Hult Center — which was built with the help of a $1.5 million donation from Chambers. “Her presence was quiet, sensitive and extraordinarily compassionate.”
Chambers also was a big champion of the local arts scene, giving her time and money and helping raise funds for organizations such as the Eugene Symphony, which gave a little bit back Saturday by gracing the Silva Concert Hall’s stage and performing such pieces as J.S. Bach’s “Air” From Orchestral Suite No. 3 and G.F. Handel’s Largo from “Xerxes.”
Saydack, vice president for legal affairs for PeaceHealth’s Oregon region, and Chambers’ attorney for more than 20 years, recalled a business deal in California years ago in which she sat across the table from a well-known, tough businessman.
“He really thought he was giving Carolyn a lesson in putting a deal together,” Saydack recalled. The man’s attorney handed him the closing deal after all the signatures, “And as he looked at the numbers, his smile began to fade, and he turned to his lawyer and said, “You let that woman from Ory-gone do that to me?”
Karla Chambers said that as much support as Carolyn Chambers contributed to the vision and building of Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, “She had no intention of ever checking in.”
Thus, she stayed in her home and received hospice care during the final year of her life. But she did not stop working, Karla Chambers said.
One day she found her mother-in-law in bed, but obviously working on some sort of deal.
“Really?” Karla Chambers recalled saying to her. “I’m down here taking care of you — you think both of us need one more thing to think about or manage?
“And she just smiled with that cute little grin and, of course, she was buying more real estate,” Karla Chambers said.
“She never quit. She never gave up.”
“We have lost a champion and one of Oregon’s greatest.”
— KARLA CHAMBERS, CAROLYN CHAMBERS’ DAUGHTER-IN-LAW