The first snowflakes of the new year began to fall on Saturday, February 4th. I was getting ready to put on my new suit and head to Kingsport’s business social of the year and thought I had it all together…new suit, tie, cuff links….I was looking forward to the social hour and especially hanging out with Ted Como like we do every year in front of the bar.

Everything was going along like clockwork too – I turned off the Jeep, started walking slowly to the door at MeadowView in the snow and after digging through the last of my pockets – no ticket!

I knew I had placed it on the table and made a mental note not to forget, but that was to no avail. They were nowhere to be found, so instead of admitting my own pre-senior moment, I drove back home to find the tickets – to this day, I still can’t find them.

Nevertheless, when I finally got back to MeadowView, the social hour was over. There were plenty of other late-arrivals too, so I pleaded my case to the folks taking tickets and they let me in just in time for the emcee to announce the beginning of the 59th Annual Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Dinner.

I moved quickly through a parade of dark suits and bright evening gowns and was welcomed by Tim Siglin. He took my new ticket and pointed me to the table for The Times-News with Publisher, Keith Wilson, Advertising Director George Coleman and Sarah, Cheif Editor Ted Como and his wife Sarah. Writer/Reporters Hank and Sharon Hayes were also at the table and Event Marketing coordinator Diana Meredith and her husband Gerald Meredith were close behind and by the time everyone was seated, we were all present for the opening ceremonies.

The Symphony of The Mountains orchestra members were seated all along the North wall of MeadowView in a tangle of bright stage lighting, projection screens and golden strings of lights. A guest conductor directed over 100 regional musicians and began performing a set of pop tunes and their crescendo to center stage made this moment the perfect intermission to head to the bar.

Looking around at a room filled with the region’s business leaders dressed in their best and faces glowing from the candles on their tables made me realize that this is a good group to share my passion for living in Kingsport.

And it was the individuals dining, laughing and celebrating area business made me realize how much some of these individuals have influenced me over the years in our community. The character and the stories in this one room has made me realize how special this group of people are and although I used to describe this event as a big ego party and shmoozefest, I guess I’ve finally realize that this annual gathering is truly a celebration of our area’s business culture and annual achievements and rich part of the experience of living in this part of our region.

One of the first friends I saw from our table was Wally Boyd Jr. Wally is the former owner of Oakwood Supermarkets – the last of the Kingsport owned grocers. Wally’s dad, Wallace Boyd began this grocery business in the early 40s and after some 45 years, large regional competitors and super centers, finally closed the doors in the mid-nineties.

Oakwood was one of the first large business accounts I had the privilege to work with. At the time, we were one of the first grocers in the region to utilize desktop publishing and create grocery ads completely on a computer. Wally was an advocate of such unique local efforts and we developed a great friendship over the years. I’m also convinced that even though I had not seen him in several years, he’s got a Dick Clark complex….he never ages!

Among Wally were several other of Kingsport’s creative business class including Andy Brookes with Town and Country Realty. His family has a rich legacy in Kingsport too as his relatives owned Allandale Mansion.

Ron Dunn was seated next to Andy. He and his wife Carla started a small business on Stone Drive called Spa World. They moved here from North Carolina and have built up a great business and are now successful real estate brokers.

David Alley was near their table too. David is the primary energy behind Alley’s Chrysler Plymouth Dodge and together with his two brothers David and Martin, they continue a legacy from their father Wallace Alley who is a large benefactor to this region.

In between sets from the orchestra, Sarah Diamond and Josh Woods entertained the audience with a whimsical (at times) script and they gave way to WJHL manager Jack Dempsey who introduced several people including Miles Burdine. Jack read an warm welcome from Miles who is still serving in Kuwait and it was fitting too, because as much as I admire Miles, like Wally and David, he comes from another fine family – Doyle Burdine – whom my father still credits as one of the finest men he ever worked with at Mason Dixon.

Jack introduced Martha Lawson too with Tennessee Eastman. She was the 2005 Kingsport Chamber Chairperson and among many of her accolades I was especially delighted to hear her present awards to Lane Latimer and Morgan King.

I started to work for the Kingsport Times-News in 1984 and one of my first accounts was Oak Hill Funeral Home. Lane Latimer was the owner and it was always fascinating for me to meet with him at his high-in-the sky (for Kingsport) office. The Chamber recognized his service to the city with its 15th Lifetime Achievement Award and I as surprised to learn that Lane holds the title for the only Chamber member whose father also served as President in a previous generation.

Lane had the best perch in Kingsport as his a-framed office sits atop the funeral home and overlooks Kingsport’s downtown toward the South. I’ll always remember that room and our discussions and especially enjoyed our conversations about Kingsport’s business, history, waterfalls and more importantly music. Lane loved to visit waterfalls and I was surprised one day when he told me about one of his harrowing moments at Fall Creek Falls where he had a heart attack in the woods.

Lane loves music too. His wife is a talented harpist and one day, he urged me to play some jazz on a new Kurzweil in the sanctuary. I was a little timid about playing with a body in state, but Lane liked it enough to invite me to his house to play a gig at a gourmet party he had later that year.

Morgan King was awarded the Ambassador of the Year Award and it’s recognition that’s well deserved. Another employee of Town and Country Realty, Morgan, a former weatherman for WKPT is a great personality. We first met each other in a church we attended back in the nineties and I still contend Morgan is one of warmest ‘ambassadors’ our community may ever have.

The dinner was fair tonight. I was more concerned about the Merlot and the Shiraz at our table and as the salad and main course arrived, I made sure to grab another bottle that lasted well into the evening.

There were a number of other awards at this event and usually I try to find a way to exit the building. In the past they’ve had broadway singers or cover bands, but the orchestra introduced ‘Jeans and Classics’ I wasn’t sure what to expect. Some guy walks out to the piano, introduces the band and immediately conducts the stage into the opening staccato notes of Philadelphia Freedom.

I’m showing my age now, but Elton John is the reason why I started to play the piano and it wasn’t his lifestyle or his neo-Liberace performances. It was quite simply his music and Philadelphia Freedom was a song that I remember from my first pre-teen visits to a public swimming pool while living in Nashville in the mid-seventies. That song would play everyday so it takes me way back and I still love hearing it, especially when it sounded like Elton with a full orchestra!

The sound for the event was incredible and while I strained to see who was behind the console, I was sure that it was Robert Pickle since he did it last year, but the guy behind the mixer looked too skinny. I walked over and sure enough it was ‘Pickle.’ Jeff Cates was with him too and together they had a 48 channel mixing console humming right along with the ALL the performers.

Pickle said he had lost something close 30 pounds and we talked a minute about the production and he tickled me with his ‘Soundprano’ logo on a big Caddilac grill on his desktop screen saver.

i was surprised to know that by 10.00, the band ‘Jeans and Classics’ were introducing the last song. Time flew by because their great set list kept me song after song to challenge George Coleman’s music trivia. Most of these songs were from the sixties and seventies and he’s quite the musical snob when it comes to remembering old Elton and Billy Joel songs that were laced with other cool Motown songs. It was the combination of this band of musicians from Canada, their set list and a full orchestra that really was the icing on the cake tonight.

Thinking back on the evening it was important for me to be aware of a new-found respect for our business community and the families that have given so much passion toward this city for many generations. It was an inspiring realization and I’m proud to be a part of that business legacy here in the 21st century.

Read Sharon Hayes report on this event for more details