Mathews receives Chamber's annual award

Sun Herald Publisher Ricky Mathews received the Pat Santucci Spirit of the Gulf Coast Award Monday during the 20th annual meeting of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce.

"I'm completely shocked," Mathews told the crowd of about 500 who attended the meeting at the Beau Rivage. He saluted Coast businesses that are helping rebuild South Mississippi and said: "We can't lower our expectations. Katrina delivered an amazing opportunity for us." He challenged business owners to seize this chance to get things right. "It's not about us," Mathews said. "It's about the generations that will come and look back at us and ask if we did it right."

The Spirit award is given to someone who makes significant contributions to business and the Coast community. The award is named in memory of Pat Santucci, a former South Central Bell district manager and Coast Chamber chair.

John Walton, outgoing chairman of the Coast Chamber, reviewed the group's accomplishments for 2007 before passing the gavel to 2008 Chairman Linda Watts, manager of the Coast Division of Mississippi Power.

"Your chamber today is strong and healthy," Walton said, in large part because of the leadership of previous Chairman Duncan McKenzie who "led us through difficult days" after Katrina. Walton said the chamber's 49 ribbon-cuttings and five ground-breaking ceremonies in 2007 are all very important and "a healthy sign for the community."

The five chamber offices were washed away during Katrina and in 2007 were replaced with a single office when the chamber partnered with other nonprofit groups to buy the former Harrah's building on Seaway Road in Gulfport. "I really do believe this is one of the most significant and symbolic steps the chamber's ever taken," said Walton.

Other major accomplishments Walton listed were the adoption of a new tier structure for paying dues, the formation of the Coast Young Professionals with more than 400 dues-paying members, and an enhanced chamber Web site.

Local chamber presidents for 2008 are: Biloxi - Rich Westfall, Isle of Capri Casino Resort; Gulfport - Paul Maxwell, Hancock Bank; Long Beach - Rob Stinson, Lookout 49/Salute; and Pass Christian - Gwenn Voigts, Coldwell Banker Alfonso Realty.