By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
Saturday night clearly belong to the “Trios,” whether it was the trio of award-winners named at the Chamber annual meeting or the trio of Clinton, McLarty and Purvis, who spoke on various subjects for a good portion of the night’s program.
The local trio of winners named were LaGrone Williams for Business of the Year, Robin Townsend for Educator of the Year, and Dixie Coffee for Citizen of the Year.
It was clear, however, that the night witnessed by an estimated 1,200 belonged to the homecoming of homecomings, the return of the 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton to his childhood home.
As Clinton was introduced by Chamber Director Beckie Moore, a five-minute standing ovation greeted as he took his seat. Clinton’s appearance was more of a talk show format with his Hope friends, Joe Purvis and Mack McLarty at his side, than a conventional podium-style keynote speech.
McLarty was actually the first of the trio to speak first, and he directed the topics and most of flow of the dialogue. The conversation started with the fact that all three legendary men had been members of Miss Mary’s Kindergarden class in their childhoods.
“I hope we made Miss Perkins proud,” McLarty said.
McLarty, who was Clinton’s first Chief of Staff, recalled a 1994 meeting in Moscow, where Clinton was meeting then-Russian leader Boris Yeltsin. McLarty said Clinton had passed him a note, saying “We’re a long way from Hope.”
Clinton spoke to the event, saying that one reason he and Yelsin got along was because Yelsin himself was from a small-town just as Clinton was.
Clinton recalled a different era when he was growing up in Hope, saying “There was Gospel singing, square dancing, the County Fair, and story-telling — people talking to people — and getting to know each other’s stories,” he said.
The first words from Purvis were, “I thank you all for coming tonight.”
He followed up with his own take on the old times in Hope, saying “We could name you every business in downtown.”
Clinton said, “People talked to people.”
McLarty transitioned the conversation to the Chamber and Hope’s future, and he referenced his own words from last year’s Chamber banquet to “Honor the past, embrace the present, and claim the future.”
Clinton called UAHT the “most valuable asset this community has,” citing the importance of education and the youth of Hope and Hempstead County.
Purvis said that “Hempstead County is sitting on a gold mine,” and he encouraged the crowd to do something about it.
“If you are not growing, you are dying,” he said.
McLarty said, “I think we’ve brought a couple of very good consultants here tonight.”
McLarty directed the final segment of the night on friendships, and Clinton reflected on his lifelong associations with both Purvis and McLarty.
“We’re lucky to be from Hope and to have found friendships of a lifetime here,” Clinton concluded to a standing ovation. The three men stood with Clinton hugging both Purvis and McLarty, while the crowd applauded in approval.
Afterwards, Moore and Chamber President Clay Lance presented Clinton with a custom made Bowie Knife.
The night also featured in-crowd appearances of several regional and state political figures, including both David Pryor and his son, Mark Pryor.
After Clinton, McLarty, and Purvis departed the stage, there was a brief pause, and then Lance resumed the event.
The current Chamber Board of Directors, Ambassadors, and Leadership Class were briefly recognized prior to the awarding of the top Chamber awards.
Also, the top United Way of Hempstead County sponsors were recognized by Monica Moore.
Former Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey had introduced both Purvis and McLarty at the start of the program, while Moore introduced Clinton.
By Rick Kennedy, managing editor