Remembering John Pembroke

John Pembroke CEO CUES

15 minutes

Celebrating the legacy of our CEO

It is with great sadness that CUES announces the passing of its President/CEO John Pembroke on Nov. 21.

A progressive and inspiring leader, John leveraged his diverse business skills, relationship-building expertise and leadership attributes to drive organizational growth and profitability at the membership association. Under his leadership, CUES membership tripled, member loyalty increased, and new and innovative talent development offerings were created.

As a mentor and advocate of a people-first philosophy, he encouraged and supported the employees at CUES, guiding the team to reach their individual and collective potential. He worked to evolve CUES into an industry thought leader, and made diversity, equity and inclusion a priority throughout the entire organization.

One of John’s favorite quotes was “Change is the only constant in life.” He lived by that maxim, consistently embracing opportunities to improve himself, his life and the lives of others.   

If you had the privilege to meet John, you likely have a story about how he impacted your life or work. We welcome you to share those stories with us in the comment section.

John was an inspirational and empathetic leader who developed strong personal connections with people. John embodied all the qualities and characteristics we value in great leaders and in exceptional individuals. He leaves an indelible imprint in the memories and hearts of all who had the privilege of knowing him. Our world is a better place because of John.

Kelly Marshall, CCE, CCD, ICD.D
CUES Board Chair and CEO
Summerland Credit Union

John Pembroke was the smartest man I think I have ever met. I remember one of the first conversations I had with him. He was talking about CUES and all of the attributes about the mission and services. Everything just rolled out of his brain so effortlessly. I aspired to be able to discuss AACUC in that same manner. I am almost there. John was my HERO, and I will miss him dearly.

Renée Sattiewhite, CUDE, CDP
African-American Credit Union Coalition

John was a strong leader with such a gentle and caring style. He possessed an abundance of positivity and hope while inspiring me and many others. Although John was an adept lifelong learner, to me he was also an inspiring leader, and I’ve been blessed to have known him. I will miss his friendship, along with his gracious and welcoming smile.

Gerry Agnes, CPA, CIE
CUES Board Treasurer and President/CEO
Elevations Credit Union

John was a great leader for and at CUES. He “walked the talk” about the importance of professional development for all staff, and he embodied our mission, vision and values. He will be missed.

Kathy Wright

To my friend, John Pembroke, who has left us too soon,

Mark Twain said the following about people, “You meet people who forget you. You forget people you meet. But sometimes you meet those people you cannot forget. Those are your friends.” John was one of my closet friends. We connected the first time we met at a CUES’ board meeting several years ago. And years later when John applied for the CEO position at CUES, I was one of his staunchest supporters.

John had a passion for helping people, and he was truly a visionary focused on continuous improvement of CUES’ programs to enhance the value proposition for our colleagues and membership. He had a great sense of humor and a real passion for life. John is my friend, who I will never forget!

Bob Ramirez
Former CUES Board Member and President/CEO
We Florida Financial

John Pembroke and Bob Ramirez share a moment at a CUES conference.
John Pembroke and Bob Ramirez share a moment at a CUES conference.

I had been CEO at CUES for about five months and was driving to attend the first stage of the CEO Institute at Wharton in Philadelphia when I received a call from John. After catching up, he told me he was interviewing with a bank in Baltimore and asked if I would serve as a reference for him. After quickly agreeing, I then asked if he had an interest in joining CUES as COO. After the call, we stayed in touch and ultimately decided that it would be a great opportunity to work together again. When I transitioned back to PSCU, I enthusiastically recommended to the Board that John would be the perfect fit for CEO.

This is such a tremendous loss for our entire community. I held John in such high regard, even more so as an individual than how strong he was in a business setting. John was incredibly smart and engaging—in a quiet sense. He would listen, process and then provide thoughtful feedback. When I had the honor of inducting John into the AACUC Hall of Fame a few years ago, I focused on the theme of “Bear Down,” as he was also a huge fan of all Chicago sports teams. John touched the lives of many and leaves a lasting legacy as an advocate for the credit union movement.

Chuck Fagan

John taught us the power of a handshake and keeping your word. It’s a lesson that served me well throughout my career — and life. He was truly an exceptional human being who will be dearly missed.

Colleen Chappell

I met John my very first day employed at CUES. I didn’t know who he was, he just introduced himself as John and said, “If I see you tomorrow, you’ll be with CUES for life!” I will always remember getting our morning coffee at the same time almost every day, sitting together and enjoying meals at staff luncheons, how he always asked about my family and during football season we’d talk about how the Bears were playing and he’d tell me “Your son better be a Bears fan!” John connected with our team not only on a professional level but cared about us on a personal level too and that, to me, shows just how wonderful of a leader he was. GO BEARS!

Laura Gibbs
Membership Manager

My first memory of John was chatting with him while making my morning coffee shortly after I started at CUES. As a new employee starting her first job outside of college, running into the CEO was a bit intimidating. But John smiled, said “Good morning,” and proceeded to ask how I was doing and liking the office. I instantly felt at ease. He was always so good at making you feel comfortable and welcome, something that carried over to the rest of the organization. His smile and positivity will be missed greatly by me and many others, and I am so lucky to have worked with him.

Molly Parsells
Digital Marketing Specialist

I am so saddened to read about the passing of John Pembroke. I had the pleasure of speaking with John several times for articles and projects. He was always very generous with his time and had wonderful insights into whatever topic I was covering. Most memorably, I had an opportunity to have a long conversation with him in conjunction with a project about mentoring. It was clear in my conversation with him that he had a great passion for developing future leaders in the credit union movement. My condolences to everyone at CUES at this sad time.

Diane Franklin
Freelance Writer and Editor

John’s quiet leadership spoke volumes across our organization and the industry. His quietness may have been misunderstood at times, but it was simply a quiet class. He listened intently and deeply, and he spoke thoughtfully and purposefully. I think this is why his death seems so loud and crushing. His work on Earth simply was not done and we mourn the loss of all the possibilities of John.

Rest in Peace Boss,

Dawn Abely
SVP/Chief Sales & Member Relations Officer

As president of CUES, John set the example of mentoring future leaders in the credit union industry. Through thoughtful discussions about effective, strategic and visionary leadership, he walked the talk and inspired me to continue his example of mentorship. Effective professional development was a key focus for CUES during his tenure. Over the decades I have known him, he positively impacted me and many of our colleagues.

Specifically, John mentored and coached me during my transition to various C-suite positions. The list of his achievements and acknowledgments is endless. However, I will end by thanking him for challenging us to be the best in our personal and professional lives. While John has gone to be with God, his legacy continues on. Rest in Peace, John.

Lynette Smith
Retired CEO, TruEnergy Federal Credit Union and
Lead Consultant, Quantum Governance L3C

John and Monica Pembroke pose with Lynette Smith and guest
John and Monica Pembroke pose with Lynette Smith and guest.

I’ll miss our conversations. I learned from him that we should keep thinking about tomorrow, always focused on how to make things better.

Pete Crear
Retired President/CEO

John interviewed me when I was applying at CUES. I was very nervous to be meeting with the CEO, especially as a lowly prospective assistant editor! But we bonded right away over living in western Michigan and our shared vision and enthusiasm for digital transformation in magazines and media. I hope the work we’ve done since then made him proud.

Danielle Dyer

John had a lot of aphorisms he passed along. The one that sticks with me daily is “Seek to understand before being understood.” When I was younger, I would compete to be heard as I thought that was supposed to be a great quality, but it limited the input and perspective from others who were valuable to me. I didn’t like that version of myself, so I’ve committed to living this lesson and teaching it to others, both personally and professionally.

Jerry Saalsaa
Interim CEO & SVP/CAO

John saw a person’s potential and could see more in you than you saw in yourself. He was not just my CEO, he was a friend and a mentor.

Ruth Shirley
Executive Administrator

I have had the absolute pleasure and privilege of knowing John for the leadership he epitomized. His unselfish humility attracted me from the beginning. I took advantage of his presence for the good that would come from our friendship. John’s legacy is more far-reaching than I think he even realized. Through the credit union leaders he influenced, millions of lives have been changed worldwide. This is the mark of true greatness. This is a legacy that deserves to be saluted.

Maurice Smith
Local Government Federal Credit Union

Having worked under John’s leadership at PSCU and CUES I am blessed to have had a front row seat to him as a leader and a person.  I have learned so many things from him that are innumerable to count.  He was my friend and mentor, and I will miss him greatly.

Tony Hill
SVP/Chief Marketing Officer

I met John at the 2007 AACUC Conference in Baltimore. I will always remember John’s big smile and the way he welcomed everyone with a kind word or comment. We will miss the way he made us feel.

Bert Hash Jr.
Retired CEO
MECU of Baltimore

I will remember John’s smile, passion and genuine care and interest in everyone. His quiet mentorship was magical. And he had a great sense of humor. John wore a Green Bay Packers sweater on “ugly sweater” day during the holidays when I was new to CUES. I thought, “That’s not Christmassy” … I then found out he’s a Chicago Bears fan! I miss John.

Carolyn L. Cereghino
VP/Sales & Member Relations–West

Whenever we would have a conversation, John would pause and ask how he could help or support me. It stands out because you could hear and feel his sincerity.

Richard Romero
CUES Board Secretary and President/CEO
Seattle Credit Union

I first met John at a CUES Execu/Summit event in California. It was my first group event I attended with the senior team after joining Justice FCU as the VP/technology. John approached me by immediately thanking me for attending and for my CUES membership. We spoke for some time about Justice FCU, my role and the growing importance of technology in the industry and how happy he was to see a technology leader in the C-suite, which was growing trend at the time. John made me feel very welcome and encouraged me to keep investing in myself and others. I would run into John often over the years and we always found time to check in with how my career was progressing and how technology was increasingly becoming a critical part of the credit union movement. 

Mark L. Robnett, CCE, GSLC
CUES Board Member and President/CEO
Justice Federal Credit Union

John was a thoughtful, articulate and steadfast leader. He successfully rebranded, then enhanced and expanded member benefits and content delivery, which further cemented CUES as the preeminent professional development organization within the credit union movement. Beyond his unmatched devotion to his wife Monica, John’s love for CUES was only rivaled by that for his beloved Chicago Bears. I respected and admired John as a leader and mentor and was blessed to call him a friend. My heart aches with his passing and he will be greatly missed.

Joe Hearn
Dupaco Community Credit Union

John Pembroke stands with Joe Hearn and Stewart Ramsey
John Pembroke stands with Joe Hearn and Stewart Ramsey.

John Pembroke’s character, consistency and care for humanity has left a mark on my life. My last text message from him on 9/28 simply said, “Stay safe Brother!”

Simon T. Bailey
Speaker and author of Ignite the Power of Women

John was a mentor to many. He was an amazing listener and never hesitated to share his thoughts and wisdom with others. John was a true supporter of the CUES focused expansion in Canada and always had my back when I was trying to get things done. I will miss his smile, his humor, his wisdom and his emails asking me to “please advise.”

Leiha Fiddler
VP/Sales & Member Relations–International

I spoke with John one-on-one twice in the year I was with CUES and both experiences were memorable. The first instance was when I started with CUES. Coming from the credit union industry previously, he immediately encouraged me to apply my knowledge and skill base to enhance CUES’ mission and deliverables. The confidence he expressed in me was both genuine and humbling, and I do my best every day to honor that.

The second and final time I spoke with John one-one-one was during his last trip to the office during our staff meeting. I took a moment to sit down with him and when he asked how I was, I jumped right into work projects. He let me go on, but eventually stopped me and clarified his question to ask how I was doing. The question almost made me emotional in the moment and does to this second. His genuine interest in me as a person and eagerness to hear about my family and personal interests struck me as I learned to recognize the leader of our organization as a true human being... Not an untouchable CEO who has no interest in joining the culture or people around him.

If I could describe John in one word, I would use “genuine.” I will always remember him for it and strive to live up to his level of leadership.

Jacqueline Staszak
Meetings & Digital Events Coordinator

John Pembroke
John Pembroke welcomes attendees to CUES Directors Conference.

John Pembroke dedicated his life to clearing a path for others so they may advance in their personal and professional lives. He believed deeply in the power of education and was intentional about mentoring younger people and investing in his staff’s development (including mine) to help them achieve their potential. John made an indelible mark on my life. I’ve learned so much from him and am a better man and leader because of it.

Christopher Stevenson, CAE, CIE
SVP/Chief Learning Officer

I looked up to John, he was so impressive and polished. His thoughtfulness, his ability to actively listen and how much he cared. He was so passionate about improvement, and I learned from him to never stop improving. We also had the chance to banter about sports, which I always looked forward to so much as well. I am a better person because I knew him, and CUES is a better organization because we had the pleasure to work with him, full stop.

Russell Evans
VP/Sales & Member Relations–Northeast

When I went through the interview process for CUES, all the interviews were done on Zoom. My last interview was with John and it was a phone call and … it was awful! I stumbled over my words and I just couldn’t articulate anything. I sounded like a fool! When I hung up, I walked across the street to tell my neighbor how terrible I did, and she paused for a moment and said, “Write him a letter.”

So I did. I was able to articulate what CUES meant to me, and how important I found education and leadership in the credit union space. I kept it on the shorter side, which is tough for me.

I met John in person two months later during my first few days with CUES. I’m incredibly outgoing, and he couldn’t be more different. When we started talking about CUES and my role he paused and said, “I was really impressed with your letter. I could tell during the interview that you were very nervous, and it surprised me how much you had seemed to overthink your responses. When I got your letter, I must say it was the first time someone followed up with a letter about what they had meant to say, and not just a ‘thank you’ for meeting with them. I knew that you would be a fit here, and I’m very thankful you chose to write that letter.’” I’ll miss him so very much.

Loriann Mancuso
Supplier Solutions Manager


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