Association Forum Remembers Legendary Leader Chris Mahaffey

Former Association Forum CEO and legendary association leader Chris Mahaffey has died.

By About the Author

Chris Mahaffey image in memoriam

CHICAGO, ILL.–Retired association leader and former CEO of Association Forum, Chris Mahaffey, M.S., CAE, FASAE, has died at age 69. Association Forum extends condolences to Mahaffey’s family, as well as his former colleagues and extensive network within the association community.

Mahaffey followed in his father’s footsteps when he embarked on what would become a 45-year career in association management. In 1980, Mahaffey became CEO of Association Forum, which was then called the Chicago Society of Association Executives (CSAE). Founded in 1916, Association Forum is the first society of association executives, predating ASAE by four years. 

“Chris was so welcoming to me when I joined the Forum last year. It was an honor for me to have him personally reach out to show his support. His work and legacy forever changed our profession. If you are an association professional in Chicago, or elsewhere, chances are you’ve been touched by Chris Mahaffey’s work,” says Artesha Moore, CAE, FASAE, CEO of Association Forum. “From the creation of Holiday Showcase to the CAE program, to the very name of the organization I lead today, Chris’ legacy lives on.”

Under Mahaffey’s leadership, CSAE changed its name to Association Forum and flourished for 22 years under his leadership. Mahaffey led the creation of Holiday Showcase, which still stands as a signature Association Forum event 35 years later. He also focused on DEI in the early 1980s–an effort that was seen as groundbreaking for the time. He led the development of the first-ever research project that estimated the economic impact of associations. Later, in the mid 1990s, he played a key role in the revitalization and modernization of the CAE program.

“Chris Mahaffey was a legendary leader in association management,” says Gary LaBranche, CAE, FASAE, CEO of the Risk Management Society and. “I succeeded as CEO [of Association Forum] in 2003 after he departed the Forum for a new role leading the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. He was the soul of the Forum, a giant intellect of the Association profession and the nicest human being one could ever hope to meet.”

“Chris was an incredible thinker and a superb association leader,” says Paul Pomerantz, FACHE, CEO of the American Society of Anesthesiologists and Immediate Past Chair of Association Forum’s Board of Directors.  “He made the Forum into a world-class organization and significantly enhanced the reputation of the Chicago professional association community,” Pomerantz says, adding, “On a personal basis, he was a great friend and made certain that I (and all transplants like me) felt welcome and connected upon our move to this city.”

In 1986, Mahaffey recognized as was one of ASAE’s first fellows (FASAE). In 1994, he was issued the ASAE Key Award, which is the profession’s top honor for association CEO leadership. In 1998, he was recognized by his alma mater, Western Illinois University, with the Alumni Achievement Award. Finally, in 2002, he was honored with the Samuel B. Shapiro Award from Association Forum, which is Chicagoland’s top honor for CEO leadership.

“Chris personified the Chicago association community,” LaBranche says. “We will be missed, but his legacy will live on in the bedrock of the association profession.”


About the Author

The mission of Association Forum is to advance the professional practice of association management. Founded in 1916, Association Forum serves 3,000 association professionals whose efforts serve more than 27 million members and generate $10 billion in global annual expenditures. Visit for more information.

Related Articles

Member Spotlight: Ryan Frydenlund, CIMA, CIPM

Ryan has been working with association clients for more than 7 years and has wholeheartedly...


Association Forum Honors Former CEO Chris Mahaffey with Naming of Inspiring Leader Award  

The prestigious award will now be named the Chris Mahaffey Inspiring Leader Award.


Member Spotlight: Nicole Araujo, CAE

You'll never guess the names of Nicole Araujo's cats. Read her member spotlight to find...