Dunedin Chamber President Lynn Wargo dies at age 57

Jonathan Skinner and Lynn Wargo met at the Rotary Club and were together for over 14 years. (Courtesy of Lori Badders)
Jonathan Skinner and Lynn Wargo met at the Rotary Club and were together for over 14 years. (Courtesy of Lori Badders)
Published June 12 2018
Updated June 13 2018

DUNEDIN — Lynn Wargo used all her might and reached forward to love slap Jonathan Skinner on his cheek. He was holding on tight to his partner of 13 years. Tears streamed from his face as he grasped her hand.

She yelled at the loudest, quiet whisper she could muster, "Snap out of it!"

It was a line said by Cher in Moonstruck, one of their favorite movies. She knew it would give Skinner comfort and make him laugh in her final moments.

Ms. Wargo, president and CEO of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, died June 4, 2018, 102 days after her diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. She was 57.

A private person, she didn’t let on to those outside her inner circle that she was sick because she didn’t want people to worry about her. She wanted to worry about others.

It was the way she lived her life.

She would much rather push someone else into the spotlight and give them the credit, than step in and take the credit she deserved, Ms. Wargo’s colleagues at the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce said.

Jeff Roche said he’s learned more about his sister’s accomplishments over the past week than any other year because he was finally hearing it from others.

"In my conversations she might tell me something else and this past week people came forward and pointed at her saying no Jeff, this was her," Roche said.

Lori Badders, past chair of the board, put it simply: Ms. Wargo had a love affair with her city.

Throughout her 18-year tenure, Ms. Wargo not only turned the struggling chamber into a prosperous one but also improved community relations and sprinkled cheer wherever she went.

If it weren’t for Ms. Wargo, the Blue Jays might not still have their spring training season in Dunedin. The Jolley Trolley would only be running in Clearwater and wouldn’t be connected up the north coast. There wouldn’t be an orange festival in the city — and so many other things.

She had a vision of connecting people and communities, Skinner said.

"Most of the things in this city she had her hands in," said Mike Bowman, chamber board member and chair-elect. "Just look around. Everybody knew her and everybody came to her for advice."

Skinner described Ms. Wargo like a duck. She was paddling vigorously underwater, working to get things done, but above, the surface was smooth. And when something went wrong, she paddled even harder.

As a leader, people said she never demanded anything to be done. Instead, she asked everyone to come together and ruled with savvy.

"Gracious, integrated, inclusive and thoughtful are all of the characteristics I keep coming back to that encompass being savvy," said Chuck Dean, a member of the chamber and Rotary Club. "Those are attributes and traits we can all aspire to have. But she had them."

Ten years ago, Dean moved to Dunedin. He knew nobody and had no friends. One of the first stops in his new town was at the chamber. That’s where he met Ms. Wargo.

"I knew right away that I had found a dear friend and a great community," Dean said.

Ms. Wargo trained her colleagues well. She taught them to not only be leaders with a big heart but ones that always had plenty of snacks on hand, for any occasion.

"There always had to be a snack," Pam Pravetz, past chair of the board and interim president, said with a laugh. "Always!"

Ms. Wargo’s signature was a half of a banana. She’d sit one out for every person at each board meeting.

"All of us have the duty in her memory and her honor to carry forward and keep going for all of the things she wanted to do," Pravetz said.

Ms. Wargo was embracing and welcoming to everyone and lived a very public life. And yet, she was able to live a private life, Badders said.

She loved snuggling her cats, Sassy and Emmie. She dreamed of someday digging her fingers through soil in her very own vegetable garden.

Skinner said they did almost everything together. "Usually on the weekends, we were never more than 20 feet apart," he said.

Her sense of adventure took them across the country and the world. Every place they went, the two would inevitably walk into a local chamber — whether it was in Spain or in North Carolina — and Ms. Wargo would swap tricks of the trade and share her love for Dunedin. It’s something they were planning on continuing to do.

"We were hoping to be that 70- and 80-year-old couple hiking up the side of Pompeii," Skinner said.

Contact McKenna Oxenden at [email protected] Follow on Twitter & Instagram @mack_oxenden.