Chamber celebrates city, community members

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NATCHEZ — No one present at the Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce’s annual gala Tuesday night had much of a reason to frown.

Laughter, love and respect for a city and state that may sometimes feel at the bottom of every list but are certainly at the top of many hearts filled the room as hundreds of residents poked fun at themselves and honored their best.

Editorial cartoonist Marshall Ramsey — famous for his cartoons in The Clarion-Ledger — shared his work and his love for Mississippi politicians and their antics.

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“Mississippi is paradise for editorial cartoonists,” Ramsey said, pointing to his many cartoons mocking former Gov. Kirk Fordice and current Gov. Haley Barbour.

But the state, including Natchez, is a great place to live, he said.

“When I got the call to come to Natchez tonight, I had to think for about 35 seconds,” Ramsey said. “I love this town, and I’m not in the business of saying great things.”

And living in Mississippi is something Ramsey, who moved to the state from San Diego, wouldn’t give up, he said.

“I got a job offer in Tulsa,” he said. “And I thought, where do I want my kids to grow up? After Katrina, seeing (the unity), after seeing my sons walk up and say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘yes sir,’ I knew.”

It’s the people of Mississippi that make it great, Ramsey said, and it was the people of Natchez the chamber’s membership gathered to honor.

“It’s the businesses and industries who dedicate their service to the community that lend our community a hand in helping shape our future,” chamber President Debbie Hudson said.

And the chamber honored two individuals and two businesses for their service Tuesday.

The Natchezian Woman of the Year award was given to Katie McCarstle, owner of Katie’s Ladies.

“Katie is a magnificent community leader and mentor,” Hudson said. “She promotes our town with passion and is always ready to lend a hand and make a difference. Without a doubt, our community is what it is today because of the ‘Katies’ in this world.”

McCarstle is a member of the Natchez Rotary Club and contributes clothing to the Catholic Charities thrift store. She has also worked in the Natchez tourism industry.

Former mayor Tony Byrne received the Natchezian Man of the Year award.

“(Byrne) is Natchez itself,” Hudson said. “For as long as I can remember, he has been the center of Natchez politics and has always been a leader.”

Byrne was the chamber of commerce manager from 1961 to 1968. He was an alderman from 1966 to 1968 and served as mayor for 20 years after that.

Now, Byrne works at Ketco Advertising and chairs the St. Catherine Creek Project committee.

“I cannot think of a more deserving individual to be the 2010 Natchezian Man of the Year,” Hudson said. “He has been a role model for all of us, and we know this award is not near the thanks that he deserves for representing Natchez, Adams County and the great state of Mississippi.”

Gillon Group received the award for small business of the year.

The accounting firm has operated in Natchez for more than 25 years.

“They serve as an example to all of us as a company that combines quality client service and love and service to the community,” Hudson said.

Home Hardware received the large business award.

The business was started by Jimmy Smith in 1984 in Ferriday, but spread to Vidalia and Natchez soon after.

Now, the company has 17 locations and more than 200 employees.

Hudson pointed out that the business highlights the growing focus on regionalism in the community.

“Home Hardware Center prides itself on doing all it can to assure that every customer leaves the store after every visit satisfied that the company has done more than talked the talk,” Hudson said.

Outgoing chamber board chairman Jack Byrne praised the work of so many businesses to create and fund the new Natchez, Inc. economic development group.

“The results may be 15 years down the road, but your chamber is a bridge,” Byrne said. “We are involved on every level all the way through.”

Byrne passed the gavel to incoming chairman Kay Ketchings.