Two men were touted for their selfless efforts to make Clinton and Sampson County a better place during a magical evening dedicated to honoring Chamber of Commerce members Tuesday night.
Clinton Mayor Lew Starling was surprised with the Chamber’s highest honor, that of Member of the Year, and Bill Johnson took home the first-ever awarded Lifetime Achievement Award. Both men were praised for their integrity and their endless love for the city and county — and the tireless work that sprung from that love — during the annual event.
“I am humbled,” the mayor said after a rousing standing ovation and high praise from last year’s recipient Becky Spell, who introduced a surprised Starling with accolades touting his unending love for the city and the daily action he puts into that love.
“Our honoree is a man of great integrity and honor, someone who takes great pride in where he lives and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, doing what it takes, to make it the best city it can be,” Spell said, building anticipation for the naming of the recipient.
“He’s a truly great individual; in fact, I could stand here for hours and speak to the many great things he has done for our city and county, but that’s not what he would want because he’s far to humble.”
Spell said Starling had many great qualities that made him a perfect recipient of the award, “but none of the qualities shine any brighter than the way he treats his mother and father. That shows just how great his character really is, how honorable he truly is. He has touched so many lives here, in the nation and, really the world. He has time to help a child, or someone in need, and he lives the challenge he gave to his at the Martin Luther King banquet a few years ago … he rises up at a time when it is easier to sit back and do nothing.”
A surprised Starling humbly accepted the award with few words. He merely thanked the audience, who rose in a standing ovation as he took the stage. “I truly appreciate this honor. I do love this city and its people and I want to work hard every day to make it the best it can possibly be.”
Johnson, accompanied by his wife of 74 years, Ida, accepted his Lifetime Achievement honor from long-time friend Chris Fann, who acknowledged the entrepreneur “an individual who embodies everything the Chamber and its awards committee intended a recipient of such a prestigious honor to be.”
“From the time our honoree moved to Clinton, he immersed himself in the community. In business and civic affairs, he was known as a compassionate individual, a hard-worker and a supporter of anything that improved the quality of life for Clinton and Sampson County,” Fann said before introducing Johnson as the award recipient.
“He is someone I’ve admired all my life and I’m privileged to call a friend,” Fann said stepping from the stage to greet Johnson with a warm handshake, hug and the award.
With the largest crowd ever in attendance at the annual banquet — over 400 — Chamber officials also recognized business community members with awards touting their achievements in the community.
John Prestage received the Business Person of the Year Award.
Prestage serves as senior vice president at Prestage Farms and is a member of the company’s Board of Directors. He has been with the company since its inception in 1983 and has served the agribusiness community in countless capacities on board and communities for various organizations. Active in his local community, Prestage has served on the school board of Harrell’s Christian Academy for the past 12 years and is immediate past chairman of the Sampson Community College Foundation Board. Prestage Farms is also Sampson County’s leading contributor to the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
In accepting the award, Prestage talked of his — and his family’s — love of Sampson County. “I moved here at the age of 9, in 1967. I grew up here, I went to school here. I call Clinton home because in my heart it is,” Prestage said.
Prestage Farms, he said, was proud to be a part of Sampson County and even though the business had grown and expanded into seven states, “we will always call Clinton and Sampson home.”
But he saved the most praise for the Prestage employees, asserting that they were what makes the company great. “I accept this award on their behalf and, really, present it to them for all their hard work for our company,” Prestage said.
Others nominated for the Business Person of the Year award were Eric Spell, president of AgCareers.com and Leonard Smith, regional director of Human Resources of the Carolina Region of Smithfield Packing.
Ed Carr received the Entrepeneurial Success Award for his business Carr Real Estate.
A humbled Carr thanked the group for the award. “This is really a great honor. These have been challenging times the last few years, particularly in the real estate market and particularly going out on your own. But I appreciate the opportunity and I’m grateful for the award,” he said.
Others nominated were Simmons and Simmons, a small family owned business where there work includes land clearing, site preparation, and demolition, and Lisbon Maintenance, a family owned small business that was built on integrity, hard work, and personal customer service.
Dr. John McPhail accepted the award for Clinton Surgical Associates, touted as the Chamber’s Small Business Excellence Award winner.
“I told those at my table if we were fortunate enough to win I’d start by thanking the academy,” Dr. McPhail joked, referring to the Academy Awards handed out earlier int he week in Hollywood.
“But seriously, we greatly appreciate this award. Sometimes it’s tough to put business and medicine together; the relationship doesn’t always mesh, yet we must do both, and we work hard to do both very well.”
McPhail accepted the award on behalf of himself, Dr. Michael Valenti and the Clinton Surgical Associates staff. “Dr. Valenti is in the operating room right now, taking one for the team, but I’d like to ask the rest of our staff to please stand to be recognized,” he said, pointing out Norma Naylor, Connie Honeycutt, Tracy Moore and Yonna Buchannan to the crowd.
The doctor also praised Sampson Regional Medical Center, noting the “excellent care” offered there. “This hospital is very important to all of us, and you get excellent care there … so think of us.
Others nominated in the Small Business category were Crumpler Plastic Pipe and Caison Enterprises.
Also honored Tuesday night was Marie Daniels, volunteer coordinator at Liberty Homecare and Hospice. She was the recipient of the Garnie Edwards Ambassador of the Year Award.