FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The Fort Jackson community is mourning the loss of a civic leader who was known as a great supporter of the installation. Ike McLeese, civilian aide to the secretary of the Army and president and CEO of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, passed away Tuesday at the age of 69.

"I am deeply saddened by the passing of Ike McLeese," said Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker, Fort Jackson's commanding general. "Ike was a tireless advocate for Fort Jackson and our men and women in uniform. We have lost a friend, a partner and a great American. My thoughts and prayers are with Sue and the rest of Ike's family."

According to the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce website, McLeese called the region's success in keeping and expanding its military mission during the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process his favorite career moment.

"We have to keep our bases competitive and viable, and the folks in uniform can't be involved, so the advocates have to come from the communities around the bases," McLeese said in a 2013 article with MidlandsBiz online magazine last year. "Otherwise, the stories of the great relationships between the military and the civilian communities won't be told, and they must be.

Col. Stephen Yackley, Fort Jackson's deputy commander, said McLeese played a big part in creating Columbia's reputation as a great place for military families.

"The passing of Ike McLeese is not only a huge loss to the community, but also Fort Jackson," Yackley said. "In his duties as the President and CEO of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce he was instrumental in Columbia being recognized as the most military friendly community in America. He also served as a Civilian Aide to Secretary of the Army and in that role he humbly represented the Secretary of the Army at numerous funerals in South Carolina for fallen Soldiers lost during this past decade.

"His love for the military and especially Fort Jackson had a tremendous impact on all of us here at Fort Jackson," Yackley said. "He was our biggest supporter and strongest advocate for keeping Fort Jackson a viable military installation. We will miss him as a leader, but more importantly as a friend."

Scott Nahrwold, Fort Jackson's deputy garrison commander, has known McLeese for almost two decades.

"Ike McLeese's positive impact on Fort Jackson is impossible to overstate," Nahrwold said. "Throughout our 17 year personal and professional relationship, he demonstrated a deep and enduring commitment to the future of Fort Jackson, and worked tirelessly to enhance and strengthen the extraordinary relationship that exists among the greater Columbia area and the installation. While he will be remembered as a true champion of the Midlands and Fort Jackson, my life will be diminished by the loss of a trusted friend and mentor."

McLeese suffered a heart attack Sept. 5 and underwent heart surgery Oct. 10. In an interview with The State newspaper before his surgery, he announced that he would step down from his position with the Chamber in January while continuing to serve the organization as a consultant for military matters.

He is survived by his wife, Sue; their five children, Kelly, LeDayne, Bill, Susan and Heather; and four grandchildren. Services are pending as of press time.