‘Gene, this is your night’

Former mayor, state senator honored as Citizen of the Year

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

* Jan. 30: Macie McQueen ‘most deserving” of service award
* Dec. 8: Macie McQueen named Charles White Service Award recipient
* Dec. 8: Chamber names McLaurin Citizen of the Year

HAMLET — When Gene McLaurin first learned of being selected as 2014 Citizen of the Year by the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce, he was taken aback.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Brian Baucom, incoming chairman of the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce board of directors, presents the Citizen of the Year award to Gene McLaurin.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Brian Baucom, incoming chairman of the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce board of directors, presents the Citizen of the Year award to Gene McLaurin.

The 58-year-old former Rockingham mayor and state senator, who is often called upon to offer a few unscheduled words due to his down-home, eloquent delivery, was all but speechless. That was Dec. 8, when McLaurin’s presence at the Rockingham Rotary Club’s weekly meeting was assured by several friends — but carefully so, in order to conceal the fact that something was amiss.

McLaurin had plenty of notice heading into the 32nd annual Richmond County Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting and Recognition Night Thursday night inside the Robert L. and Elizabeth S. Cole Auditorium at Richmond Community College.

McLaurin was, as expected, humble, to the point, clear in his love for God and family and graceful upon entry and exit. But it was the testimony of others that might have helped convince others — if there was a shred of doubt to begin with — that McLaurin was the right choice.

Former Rockingham Mayor G.R. Kindley, a longtime friend and supporter of McLaurin’s, said he knew early on that McLaurin was “destined to become a dedicated public servant.”

“He deeply and genuinely cares about people,” Kindley said. “He sees everyone, regardless of status. Gene always looks for the good in others.”

Fellow friend Russell Bennett — who, along with Kindley is a past Citizen of the Year award recipient — spends no small amount of time on his back porch overlooking Hitchcock Creek. The revitalization of the creek was a project that began while McLaurin was mayor, and both Bennett and Kindley praised McLaurin for his role in that project, as well as the funding and building of Discovery Place KIDS and the new city hall building on Rockingham Road.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Bennett’s comments were heard by the hundreds of community leaders and dignitaries who nearly filled the lower portion of the auditorium, but they were sometimes directed straight to McLaurin himself.

“Gene, this is your night,” Bennett said.

All his life, McLaurin has felt right at home in his native Richmond County, which is “a special place because of special people,” he said.

“After college I came home as soon as I could,” McLaurin said. “I never regretted that decision. Our family ties are deeply rooted in Richmond County.”

McLaurin then turned the credit for his success to those around him — colleagues, friends and family members.

“Any success that I’ve had is because of the quality of people I worked with and served with, not because of me,” McLaurin said. “Whoever said you can’t work with friends is wrong, in my opinion.”

McLaurin said “it’s amazing what can get done” when people aren’t concerned with who gets the credit.

McLaurin is the 34th individual honored as Citizen of the Year since the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce started the program in 1985. Then, L.G. DeWitt was the first recipient. Since then, there are have been four years in which the award was shared — 2006 by Kenneth and Claudia Robinette, 1997 by J.C. and Ruth Watkins, 1991 by Blondie Morse and Mary Holland Phillips and 1986, with Mary Hadley Conner Leath and William L. Haltiwanger Sr.

The complete list of Citizen of the Year honorees includes:

2014 — Gene McLaurin
2013 — Dr. Dale McInnis
2012 — Dr. Masoud Ahdieh
2011 — Dr. Alonzo H. Covington
2010 — Steve Earwood
2009 — Melanie Wade Goodwin
2008 — Tom Smart
2007 — Dr. John S. Stevenson
2006 — Kenneth and Claudia Robinette
2005 — Bert Unger
2004 — Charles B. Deane Jr.
2003 — William S. Blackwell
2002 — Dr. William L. Haltiwanger Jr.
2001 — Sam Brigman
2000 — Dr. Ralph Gandy
1999 — Abbie Covington
1998 — Russell Bennett
1997 — J.C. and Ruth Watkins
1996 — Jimmy Smith
1995 — J. Neal Cadieu Jr.
1994 — J. Richard Conder
1993 — G.R. Kindley Jr.
1992 — Dr. J. Stanley Vetter
1991 — Blondie Morse and Mary Holland Phillips
1990 — Dr. Doug James
1989 — R.W. Goodman
1988 — David W. Ariail Jr.
1987 — Dr. P.R. Rankin Jr.
1986 — Mary Hadley Conner Leath and William L. Haltiwanger Sr.
1985 — L.G. DeWitt

 

 

 

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