‘Phil loved Memphis:’ Bluff City mourns death of Phil Trenary

Memphians send their condolences to Trenary’s family

Downtown Memphis Chamber mourns death of Phil Trenary

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland spoke about the death of Greater Memphis Chamber CEO and President Phil Trenary.

Trenary was shot and killed Thursday night on South Front Street.

“It is a sad day,” Strickland said.

Strickland spoke Wednesday morning, saying the Trenary family has been in his prayers.

"Phil loved Memphis," Strickland said. "He was one of the best cheerleaders this city had, and he contributed so much to our community. And I mourn his death. I also mourn the deaths of the other Memphians who've lost their lives to gun violence."

Trenary was shot around 7:30 after leaving a run the Chamber held at Loflin Yard.

Strickland said police do not know if the attack was targeted or random.

He said Memphis, like many other major cities, has too much gun violence, but that this one hit close to home because he was a friend of Trenary's.

"Gun violence is a problem in the United States. Memphis, like many big cities, has way too much of it, and we have a long-range plan on it and we are working on it. We're hiring more police officers, we're getting tougher on violent criminals, we're putting people in jobs, we're giving people second chances who deserve those second chances and we're making progress on it. It's a tough, American problem."

Memphis leaders mourn Phil Trenary

Strickland said it's important for all Memphians and all Americans to monitor their surroundings.

Strickland said Trenary leaves behind a legacy as a good man and someone who made a positive impact on his city.

"He has a lot of achievements in the private sector and at the chamber, and I will miss him."

Police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding Trenary's death. The suspect is believed to be driving a white four-door, newer model Ford F-150.

“Once I found out it was him, then the questions are raised what happened, who did it,” said City Council Chairman Berlin Boyd.

The motive remained unclear on Friday.

“Do not know if it was an attempted robbery, or a robbery, or if it was some type of vendetta,” said MPD Lieutenant Karen Rudolph. “We have no idea we have no idea. That part is still ongoing.”

Trenary spent the majority of his career in the airline industry and helmed the Memphis Chamber since 2014.

“It’s a traumatic loss for the city of Memphis, it’s very devastating,” Boyd said.

Strickland discusses death of Phil Trenary

He’s being remembered as a fierce advocate for the Bluff City with Memphis' growth always his goal.

“I think he’s been such a booster of the city of Memphis to his core he believed in the city’s potential and he took that kind of positive energy and what it could be everywhere he went,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.

People across the city of Memphis are also mourning.

“No fakeness, no nothing,” said Carmen Chillis, who worked with Trenary. “That's how he really was, that sweet warm-hearted person like that.”

Chillis worked catering planes for Pinnacle Airlines in its heyday at Memphis international Airport. The CEO at the time, Phil Trenary, is a man she says she’ll never forget.

“He would be down there in the back of the bin, loading, bringing in the airplanes, catering the planes, greeting people, greeting passengers,” Chillis said.

Trenary was head of Pinnacle for 13 years and later took the role as Greater Memphis Chamber President and CEO.

“I guarantee you Phil Trenary’s legacy will live on in the city of Memphis,” Boyd said.

“He did so many great things for Memphis,” Strickland said.

Strickland and many other leaders credited Trenary with recent downtown Memphis wins, like St Jude’s $1 billion expansion and moving ServiceMaster downtown. They say those are the headlines he loved to see.

“He was all about reporting good stories about Memphis and not negative stories about Memphis,” Boyd said.

But how can a city like Memphis escape its perception by some as a violent place when the man tasked with selling the city to the world is shot and killed downtown? Those answers won’t come easily.

“Before you look at the effect on the city, it is sad for his family,” Strickland said. “Econ

development frankly right now is not my number one concern. My number one concern is Phil’s family.”

Memphis responds to Phil Trenary's death

The Downtown Memphis Commission is also remembering his legacy.

As tributes and condolences poured in, those who knew Phil Trenary best say his absence will leave a huge void in the city.

“I can’t tell you a meeting that he wasn’t in,” said Downtown Memphis Commission President Jennifer Oswalt. “Has been the best cheerleader for downtown. He loved downtown, downtown loved him.”

Like so many others, Oswalt is still trying to wrap her head around the tragedy and the loss of a friend she’d seen hours before his death.

“I was with him yesterday at lunch at a new Memphis board meeting, which again speaks to his commitment to Memphis and to its future with its leadership,” Oswalt said. “So I have been in shock since then.”

Oswalt said Trenary made Memphis his adopted city and gave it all his energy to help it prosper and grow.

Earlier this year, Trenary spoke with WMC5 about Memphis’s booming development.

“We are seeing people move here from Austin, move here from Nashville,” Trenary said in August 2018. And the young people, they get it. They understand what’s going on here.”

City leaders mourn for Phil Trenary

Trenary left his mark on the city, involved in most of the downtown development projects.

“We are just thankful for all of his contributions,” Oswalt said. “Back to the days of pinnacle coming to downtown to as recent at the Arrive Hotel breaking where he was swinging a sledge hammer and celebrating that.”

Now, the Bluff City celebrating the life and legacy of a man who has left his mark forever on Memphis.

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