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Donna Girardot Created Legacy Of Leadership, Community Impact

By Staff Reports, posted Apr 13, 2023
Donna Girardot

Longtime community and business leader Donna Girardot, who chaired the New Hanover County Planning Board and served as chief strategy officer for CIL Capital, died Tuesday after a lengthy illness.

Visitation will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday, April 17, at Andrews Mortuary Market Street Chapel, 1617 Market St., and the funeral will be 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, at the Basilica Shrine of St. Mary, 412 Ann St., according to her obituary.

On Thursday, those who have known Girardot over the years remembered her as a gifted professional and dedicated civic volunteer.

“It’s a huge community loss on so many different levels,” said Cameron Moore, executive officer of the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association.

Girardot moved to the Wilmington area in the late 1990s after her husband became an assistant vice chancellor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She had previously worked as executive director of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce in southeastern Virginia.

In her new home, Girardot was hired as governmental affairs director for what was then the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors (now Cape Fear Realtors). From there, she was recruited by area homebuilders to head up the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association (WCFHBA) in 2002.

Soon after, she helped found Business Alliance for a Sound Economy (BASE), an organization that advocates for the real estate, development and building industries. In addition to her leadership of WCFHBA, she became CEO of BASE.

She retired from both in December 2014, recommending Moore to succeed her at the homebuilders association and Tyler Newman to lead BASE.

“When she said she was going to do something she always stood by her word. She always had my back and I always had hers, and we forged a very strong working relationship,” Moore said. “I've worked with her in a lot of different capacities and a lot of different situations and at the end of the day, she was one of my strongest mentors. I learned so much from her. I would basically not be where I am today without her leadership and guidance over the years.”

After her work with WCFHBA and BASE, Girardot was appointed to the New Hanover County Planning Board, where as chairwoman for nearly four terms, she helped that body navigate through numerous challenging tasks and decisions.

“I can be a tough negotiator, but I believe respect is the greatest thing you can give another human being,” Girardot said in a 2019 interview with WilmingtonBiz Magazine. “You don’t dictate to people; you listen to them.”

In 2015, Girardot was appointed to the New Hanover County Airport Authority, later becoming the first female airport authority chair in the state. In her role on the governing board for Wilmington International Airport, Girardot was in place during its most recent terminal expansion project.

Girardot’s impact on the area earned her The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award from Gov. Roy Cooper in 2020. 

In 2022, Girardot was tapped as chief strategy officer of ​CIL Capital, a company building and planning industrial space at the Wilmington International Airport Business Park, where one of those buildings bears her name. 

Wilmington developer and historian Gene Merritt described Girardot as an intelligent and talented leader.

“We've lost a treasure," he said. "That sort of community leadership in my opinion doesn’t come along very often, and in this case we were blessed with her.”

Girardot was preceded in death by her husband of 52 years, David Charles Girardot Jr. She is survived by her children, David of Wilmington and Stephanie (husband Tom Haaker of Weston, Florida) and grandsons Luke and Ryan Haaker.

According to a message to members Thursday, WCFHBA officials stated, "At this time the family has asked for privacy and is working to confirm service arrangements for the celebration of her life.  In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that you please make donations to Kids Making It online at https://www.kidsmakingit.org/donate or the Lower Cape Fear LifeCare Foundation, online at https://lifecare.org/donate/. "

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