The 2014 Buttimer Awards Dinner was filled with excitement, recognitions and talk of recommitment to the principals of democratic involvement that have made America great. The Buttimer Dinner is the Chatham County Democratic Committee’s Annual Fundraiser. The Honorary Co-Chairs for this year’s event were Robert E. James, President of Carver State Bank, and Attorney James B. Blackburn.
The keynote speaker was the Democratic Party’s nominee for Governor, State Senator Jason Carter who excited the crowd with his vision for a better Georgia that would not be competing for the worst employment rate or the worst school system, but the best. He touted his priorities for Georgia: protecting education; an economy that works for everyone; and an honest government.
The crowd stood and enthusiastically applauded when Carter thanked Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson and Alderman Van Johnson for the calming, courageous and heroic leadership they are providing the people of Savannah in the aftermath of the shooting of 29-year-old Charles Smith by Metropolitan Police Officer David Jannot on Thursday, September 18, during an attempted arrest on outstanding criminal warrants. Throughout the evening, Jackson, Johnson, and Pastor Matthew Southall Brown, Sr. were praised for their leadership. “They make us proud to be Democrats,” Carter said.
The honorees for the evening were Chatham County commissioner Tony Center; former member of the Chatham County Board of Elections Monifa Johnson; and former District Attorney Larry Chisolm. Johnson received the Arthur Gignilliat Public Service Award, Chisolm – the Mathews Yellow Dog Democrat Award and Center, the Patrick “Toby” Buttimer Award. The Democrats also honored deceased former Mayor Floyd Adams, Jr. with a touching video tribute.
During their acceptance remarks, each of the recipients held the attention of the audience with well-conceived statements of appreciations for individuals and institutions that contributed to their success.
Attorney Larry Chisolm saluted his parents who were in attendance and recalled the impact that an encouraging letter from former U. S. Senator and former Georgia Secretary of State Max Cleland had on his life and career. Chisolm encouraged the room of community leaders to help and encourage young people as he was helped and encouraged.
Monifa Johnson was global in her praise for the many individuals who have guided and assisted her throughout her long and impressive public service career. She saluted her parents, Paul and Angelyne Johnson, her sister Ayeola B. Johnson, her uncle, former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson, and a host of other relatives and friends. She paid tribute to her sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and her associates at the Housing Authority of Savannah, where she serves as Grants and Procurement Administrator.
Commissioner Tony Center, who chaired the Chatham County Democratic Committee from 2009-2012, received the Patrick “Toby” Buttimer Award and presented a moving tribute to his family and others who inspired his involvement in politics, government, public service and the Democratic Party. After thanking State Senator Lester Jackson, who served as his presenter during the ceremony, and a host of Democratic Leaders for their involvement in the dinner and the Chatham County Democratic Committee, Center continued his remarks by praising his Mother, Miriam, his brother, Scott, and his father, former City Alderman Leo Center. The awardee also praised salute “My lady April,” as a true liberal who keeps his compass focused.
Center continued, “I am especially honored because I was told that this year, for the first time, the entire Chatham County Democratic Committee named the winners. I particularly thank Gwen Waring for nominating me. I am proud to share this night with Election Board Member Monifa Johnson and former District Attorney Larry Chisolm.” Center recalled the list of former honorees. He said that they included four mayors, three Commission Chairs, two judges, aldermen, commissioners, and other community leaders. “Edna Jackson won twice, 1998 as the Matthews Yellow Dog Democrat and 2007 as the Buttimer Awardee,” he said.
Then, Center was passionate in his praise of Mayor Jackson and Alderman Van Johnson in their response to the community’s cry for a complete and fair investigation of the shooting by a Metro Police Officer of a Black man in West Savannah during an arrest attempt. Center also praised Pastor Matthew Southall Brown, Sr. for calling the ministers together and preaching calm.
Center praised Chatham County Commission Chair Al Scott. He said, “Chatham County got it right when we elected Al County Chair.”
Center continued to analyze the former recipients of the Buttimer Awards. He said that there are two husband-wife teams — Norton and Betty Melaver, and Janice and Patrick Shay; and this year, we have the very first Uncle-Niece winners in Monifa and former Mayor Otis Johnson.”
“This year we also have the very first parent child awardees. My dad, Leo Center, who served with three different Democratic mayors, won the 2003 Arthur Gignilliat award.” My father, Leo, was the fairest man I ever met. He stood up for the underdog and championed equal rights.
It is very easy to tell you why I am a Democrat. Of course I start with my parents. My mother, Miriam, worked with Judge Eugene Gadsden, W. W. Law and supported Shirley Chisholm for President of the United States.
Center asked, “How can one not want to be a member of the party that protects those who need protection or how can one not want to be a member of the party that continually wants to raise the bar, not only to what man can achieve, but just as importantly from the bottom up?” Center quoted President Franklin Roosevelt: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to those who have abundance, but whether we provide enough to those in need”.
“How can one not want to be a member of the party believes all members of society deserve a quality education? How can one not want to be a member of the party that believes all members of society should have access to adequate medical care? How can one not want to be a member of the party that believes all people, regardless of gender, deserve equal pay for equal work? How can one not want to be a member of the party that believes two people who are in love, regardless of gender, may live together as they want to live?”
The 2014 Patrick “Toby” Buttimer Award recipient said that has lived through two momentous political movements. The Vietnam War changed the average citizen’s perception of government. What was once trusted fell to the bottom of the public relations barrel. But the movement that affected me the most, and still does, is the Civil Rights Movement. I grew up in a segregated society when there were two waiting rooms at Memorial Hospital; two waiting rooms at every private medical office; two water fountains in Forsyth Park; segregated seating at Grayson Stadium; and of course, the infamous “Colored Sit in the Rear” signs on the bus.
“How could one not be affected by video of people being blown off their feet by high powered fire hoses and pictures of police dogs straining at leashes, snarling against those who simply wanted to be treated with the dignity of a man?”
“It was a Democrat – Lyndon Baines Johnson – who signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and, in an event that no other major industrial country has accomplished – not Canada, not Great Britain, not Spain, and not even France, it was a Democrat who broke the racial barrier on being elected the top political office, and President Obama won that nomination in a very close primary race against a woman,” he proclaimed.
“These are the reasons I am proud to be a member of the Democratic Party. To receive an award from the party that shares these beliefs is an honor. I thank the members of the Chatham County Democratic Committee for awarding me this honor.”