Solid work ethic is part of Sue Dick’s Hispanic DNA
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
When the job interview to find a second-in-command for the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce was over, Joe Kelley didn’t have to wonder who he’d hire from the top candidates.
Sue Dick was his choice. What convinced him isn’t the kind of thing that’s found in a resume.
When she told him she’s the daughter of Cuban immigrants who helped to establish the influential Hispanic community in Miami, Kelley was sold.
The solid work ethic that Cubans are known for in pursuit of the American Dream did it. He figured Dick would emulate her parents.
She didn’t disappoint. More than two decades later, as president of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, Dick has earned a reputation for helping business owners reach their goals.
“She just worked incredibly hard,” said Kelley, Dick’s former boss. “Sometimes people go through the motion and tell you from a script what they can do. Sue genuinely has it in her heart to solve problems and make people better.
“After I got to know her, it was clear to me that she was going to be stronger than I ever was. I hired her because no matter what she did; she did it with all of her heart.”
There is hardly a segment of Tallahassee’s business community that doesn’t have some semblance of Dick’s fingerprint. Her commitment to growth in the city has earned her the right to be recognized in ceremonies at the Bethel Empowerment Community Celebration Banquet.
Six others also will be honored at the Sept. 7 ceremony at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.
Not only was Dick influenced by her parents’ penchant for hard work, they made sure that she and her only sibling, brother Steve, got the best education. At the same time, they made sure their children were immersed in the American culture.
“They created every opportunity for us,” Dick said. “While we had a strong Cuban family, they quickly realized that to Americanize us was to put us through school and to educate us for the best opportunity ever.”
Dick’s parents met while her father was serving in the Navy in the late 1950s. After settling in Miami, her father owned a small furniture business and her mother worked as an executive assistant at a hospital.
She didn’t just watch her parents work. There have been times that Dick helped her father make furniture deliveries.
She’s even called on that experience in her personal life, although she might have recently moved her last piece of furniture. Not too long ago, she was showing her son how to get a sofa through a door.
She suffered a strain that resulted in a herniated disc.
Dick’s parents also took time to make sure their children saw the country, often taking them on long road trips in a van. One of those trips led to her brother deciding to become an F-16 fighter pilot after visiting the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Her parents are divorced and her mother, Nora, has since moved to Tallahassee. Her dad, Rudy Mazzola, still lives in Miami.
Dick had her first extended stay in Tallahassee as a student at FSU, where she earned a degree in education. It was at that time that she met her husband, Bobby, on her first and only blind date.
She began to work toward a career path when she returned to Miami and took her first job doing public relation for the iconic Fontainebleau Hotel.
That led to another job in the hotel industry; this time handling sales for Hilton Hotels in the Northeast and Midwest markets.
She had even bigger ambitions, though, approaching every opportunity following the example set by her parents.
“It becomes second-nature,” Dick said. “You see your parents work very hard and hopefully never lose sight of that even if you’re blessed with a little bit of success.”
After starting her professional life in Miami, she got married. Four years later, she returned to Tallahassee for good.
She and Bobby, who she calls her confidant and best-friend, began to raise a family. They have two children, ages 20 and 23.
Dick settled into her job with the Tallahassee Visitors and Convention Bureau. Eventually Kelley hired her has as senior vice president of the Tallahassee Chambers and Economic Development Council in 1996.
Since then, she’s had opportunities to go elsewhere. She turned them down because of her fondness for Tallahassee. But staying comes with the challenge of finding common ground between those who want big changes and those who would prefer to limit growth.
“In this chair you have to be a convener and I have to be very diplomatic in the sense that while I have an opinion, it’s not my role to insert my opinion,” she said. “It’s more trying to pull together strong leaders and try to determine what to do to move the ball forward for our community.”
In 2000, she became president/CEO of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce. She’s made every move without fanfare.
“She never forgot where she came from,” Kelley said. “Sue is such a humble person.”
Perhaps the reason that she seldom a minute to spare in her long workdays. Typically that could include meetings with business owners, attending a community event, or meeting with other agencies pertaining to business development.
Oh, and there are the phone calls she has to respond to.
“Sue doesn’t mind swimming upstream because she knows that there is a purpose,” Kelley said. “She is innately inspired to make a difference in the lives of the people that she touches.”