David Olson was president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce for 23 years — so long that we were surprised to learn after his death late Wednesday that he was just 57.
His death was a surprise, too, even though he had been battling lymphoma for 18 months. Only a few weeks ago, he told an editorial writer that he expected to be back at work full time in August and that he was eager to talk about ideas for linking employers and educators for the sake of a better Minnesota workforce.
It would have been just like Olson to minimize any personal woes and talk up any project that would improve Minnesota’s economic prospects. And it was typical for him to evince particular interest in shoring up this state’s best long-term business asset: its well-educated workforce. He’d spent six years as a trustee of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, including three years as its chair.
Olson’s long-term view — conveyed with enthusiasm, an outstretched hand and a ready laugh — contributed much to his durability in a high-pressure position. The chamber president is Minnesota’s top business lobbyist, speaking for 2,300 members at the Legislature.
Olson took that work very seriously, but didn’t take himself too seriously. That mind-set helped open doors as he tirelessly traveled the state to meet with employers. His last such trip was just two weeks ago. “He was every bit as excited to go to Thief River Falls this year as he was when I first met him in 1992,” chamber vice president Bill Blazar said Thursday. Olson’s attention to grass-roots business concerns was “the essence of his leadership,” Blazar said.
A native of Minneapolis, Olson was the son of 1960s-era Minneapolis City Council President Glenn C.G. Olson, who died June 17. The son said then that he learned much about public service from his father, a humble, honest, positive thinker. We’d say David Olson learned those lessons well.