Mary Lou sets out for new adventure


“It’s time to find something different and new,” said Mary Lou Blackwood, executive vice president of the Malibu Chamber of Commerce, as to why she is resigning after 12 years of service.

Blackwood, a Texan native, came to live in Malibu in 1973, from the city of Alhambra, with much resistance. Having established herself in her home at the time, Blackwood said she did not want to move, little realizing that she would be moving to a place she now calls “magic, mystic.”

“It is famous and infamous . . .,” she said of Malibu. “A place where everyone wants to live.”

The reason she and her husband of 46 years, Jack, decided to buy a home in Malibu may surprise some — it was the most affordable area they could find at the time.

Her husband having been in the Navy for 20 years, and the family moving 13 times out of those 20 years, Blackwood and her children did not want dad too far away from home. With Jack’s workplace on Wilshire Boulevard, they stuck a pin in a map, and a 20-mile radius from that pin point was where they looked for a home.

The price of their present four bedroom home back then — about $74,000.

After having the “privilege of not having to work” and raising her three children, sending them off to college, Blackwood opened an antique business, which subsequently failed, she said.

This is one reason why she believes she is good at her job — she can understand people who own businesses, their concerns and where they are coming from.

Working as an executive in Pacific Palisades, the impetus for Blackwood’s arrival at the chamber was “rescuing” the Malibu Chamber Business Directory, she said.

The current directory is overseen by Blackwood, but designed and published by Image Maker, Publishing, owned by Beverly Hammond, immediate past president of the chamber.

“Her focus has always been on fostering the health of Malibu businesses and the good of the community,” said Hammond of Blackwood.

“Mary Lou has the ability to guide and adapt to new personalities and gently remind them of fiscal responsibility,” she said of Blackwood’s working relations within the chamber. “That’s one of the things that has kept the chamber viable.”

Indeed, Blackwood lists as one of her responsibilities, “making sure the chamber stays solvent.”

Other responsibilities include business promotion, interfacing with the government on behalf of the business community and listening to business owners, sometimes giving her advice or opinion on issues.

A “biggie,” Blackwood says, is the Malibu Art Festival.

The annual festival brings in artists from all over the world to display and sell their work. In addition to the art, music and food attract thousands to the July event.

It is orchestrated by the chamber, Blackwood being a major organizer, and sponsored by the Malibu Art Association and various local clubs and businesses.

“I was in awe during the last festival,” said Hammond. “In her [Blackwood’s] ability to manage the many demands [of the festival] with such apparent ease.”

This, along with other fund-raisers, is what helps the chamber to survive, says Hammond.

Both Hammond and Mark Ball, another past president of the chamber, say Blackwood has the ability to help guide each new president and board of director in their new position and in the business of running the chamber.

“She was not only a colleague, but a mentor,” said Ball. “Her impact on Malibu is going to be sorely missed.”

“A unique strong point for her,” said Ball, “[is], she is capable of bringing two polarities together in consensus on an issue.”

This ability of Blackwood’s is demonstrated by what she said were the ground rules that were laid for discussions in the Business Roundtable, a group that came out of an economic development workshop, which eventually led to the creation of the Malibu Economic Plan.

“Everyone gets to speak,” said Blackwood of the rules, “and everyone must show respect to [the speaker].”

And respect from her colleagues is what Blackwood says is one thing she cherishes most about her work. That people trust her, and she them.

Though she demands respect for all, Blackwood can be a hard nut to crack sometimes.

“She can be very opinionated and strong in her beliefs,” said Hammond, “[however], in many respects that helps give you a strong touchstone.

“There have been times that issues have come up,” she explained. “My experience is that if you provide enough argument on your side, a compromise can be worked out.”

One of the toughest things Blackwood says she encountered while at the chamber were the ’93 fires.

“Such loss and pain,” Blackwood says of that time.

The brighter side is that people and the city came together as a team to help solve problems caused by the fires and then later the rain and slides.

As to the best parts of working with the chamber, and therefore with businesses and the local goverment, Blackwood says it has been challenging and exciting.

“It can be an aphrodisiac,” she said. “[Working within the] air of powerbrokers.”

Blackwood says she is not sure what she wants to do next, but plans to take some steps to find out.

“I will have to do some soul-searching,” she said.

Meanwhile, a new search is on for someone to replace her, as she plans to leave by Nov. 15, ready or not.