BILOXI -- John Hairston said he was surprised and humbled to be named this year's winner of the Pat Santucci Spirit of the Gulf Coast Award, presented Tuesday at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.
Hairston, the president and CEO of Hancock Holding Co., Hancock Bank and Whitney Bank, accepted the award before a gathering of 600 people at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino.
He plans the eagle award to travel between his office and home.
"When you get an award for community service your family had to invest in that, too," he said. His wife, Ann, joined him soon after he was announced the winner.
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Kimberly Nastasi, chamber CEO, said Hairston exemplifies the spirit of the award and is a leader on a local, state and national level.
"John works tirelessly to ensure the Gulf Coast progresses. He is energetic, passionate and innovative," she said.
Hairston was told someone else was going to win the award and it was his job to get the bank employee to the ceremony. He said he realized he was duped when past winner John McFarland started talking about how Hairston had organized a trip for veterans to the World War II Memorial in Washington before there were organized Honor Flights.
Praise for Hairston's involvement in national banking groups and as chairman of the Mississippi Gaming Commission came from former Gulfport Mayor and former Hancock Bank President George Schloegel. As a youngster, Hairston had been his paper boy, delivering the Daily Herald. Schloegel hired Hairston, who worked his way up to president of the bank.
"He's been a really fine leader," Schloegel said. "He enjoys life. Makes sure everyone around him enjoys it as well. That's really important."
Hairston also was saluted for his leadership after 2005's Hurricane Katrina, when he served on the Mississippi Gulf Coast Recovery and Revitalization Commission and was instrumental in getting legislation passed to form the first Gulf Coast Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau.
In accepting the award, Hairston said it was incredibly humbling to among the past honorees who shared the stage with him Tuesday.
Also during Tuesday's meeting, Eric Brown, the 2015 chairman of the chamber, introduced Julie Gresham, senior counsel and director of compliance at Huntington Ingalls Industries, who is the incoming president.
Gresham started with Coast Young Professionals and continues to be involved with the Coast Chamber.