SALISBURY — Former state Sen. Kathleen O'Connor Ives spoke of navigating the city's businesses through the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday night as she accepted her new position at the helm of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

O’Connor Ives was recently named the organization's new president and will take over for Frank Cousins on Saturday.

The Chamber is headed into "truly uncharted territory," she said during the Chamber's annual meeting at Blue Ocean Event Center in Salisbury.

“We must navigate and work hard, figuring out how to help you keep your doors open and move forward," she added.

O'Connor Ives was first elected as senator for the 1st Essex District in 2012. The Burlington native represented Amesbury, Haverhill, Merrimac, Methuen, North Andover, Salisbury and her current hometown of Newburyport for six years before choosing not to seek reelection in 2018. Before the Senate, she served on the Newburyport City Council.

She went on to launch an e-commerce start-up and has served on the advisory committee for the C-10 Research and Education Foundation.

"I am so humbled and honored to be a part of this journey with you all," O'Connor Ives said Wednesday. "I am beyond excited to stand before you this evening."

O'Connor Ives thanked the Chamber's board of directors for its vote of confidence in her and added that there are plenty of challenges ahead in bringing the city’s businesses back from the pandemic. She said businesses are hurting.

"It has been an unprecedented year of losses and the Chamber is going to respond," she said. "We are going to work to solve problems together and we will come back even stronger."

The Greater Newburyport area has special, natural, historic and cultural resources that make it a popular destination for many, according to O'Connor Ives.

"We are going to be strategic and nimble as we leverage those assets to welcome visitors back safely and welcome them back repeatedly, so we can grow our businesses and their success, all year-round," O'Connor Ives said. "What we have witnessed this year is unique, possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is our responsibility to channel this difficult chapter toward building a thriving community with even stronger connections, and a continued appreciation for our sustained success requires us to work together."

O'Connor Ives went on to point out that President John F. Kennedy's famous quote, "A rising tide lifts all boats," was actually the slogan for his regional Chamber of Commerce, the New England Council.

"We will lead together," she said.

O'Connor Ives thanked Cousins for his help with the transition.

"Frank has gone the extra mile to ensure that the Chamber is in the strongest possible position for my May 1 start date," she said. "I thank you for that."

Cousins was presented an original Richard Jones oil painting of the Newburyport Assembly of God Church on Pleasant Street to commemorate his three years of service as president.

“One of the things that I love about Newburyport is giving back,” he said. "I remember being asked, probably about 30 years ago, to participate in Newburyport and get involved in the Chamber of Commerce. I believed in that. I believed in giving back and that community is the No. 1 thing.

"My parents believed that, and we think, as good Newburyporters, there are lots of things to do," he added. "So I am very grateful and honored to receive this and very grateful for the opportunity to work for all of you."

Newburyport Health Director Frank Giacalone received the Chamber’s Community Hero Award on Wednesday night.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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