Longview Rotary took a sabbatical from its traditional Citizen of the Year program in 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this year’s banquet more than made up for the hiatus. The annual ceremony recognizes those whose public service has had the greatest positive impact on the greater Longview area and, lately, the Longview metropolitan area has needed a great deal of positive impact.
This year’s honorees are as distinguished as are their accomplishments. Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt, CHRISTUS Good Shepherd CEO Todd Hancock, State Representative District 7 Jay Dean, Mayor Andy Mack, and Fire Chief J.P. Steelman. These dedicated, selfless and industrious leaders caught the Rotarians’ attention through their untouched supervision and direction in establishing the unfamiliar but vital service of setting up and operating the Gregg County Vaccine Hub so effectively that it has become an example, being copied throughout Texas.
Hancock elaborated on the degree of the resolution that motivated him and his collaborators. There was an emergency to be addressed.
“I can humbly say that CHRISTUS played a role to make this dreadful disease not so frightening and also get a handle on it,” he said. “The citizens of Gregg County are the winners. They made good choices of their elected leaders. A lot of political capital was needed, and their leaders had it.” Hancock also cited CHRISTUS healthcare workers for their determined, ongoing efforts.
Judge Stoudt, meanwhile, gave a tearful oration on the threat posed by the pandemic and how the Vaccine Hub is turning back the virus.
“I am very emotional about the things I care about,” he said. “I care very much for the citizens of Gregg County.”
Stoudt oversaw the investment of a half million dollars from county reserves to ensure the Hub’s creation and its operation as long as it is needed. He also emphasized the value of the teamwork of county employees, as they participated in this life-saving venture.
“It was a total team effort from the word go,” he said. “The city, CHRISTUS, the Fire and Police Departments and the community – it has taken the whole village to get through to where we are today, not wearing a mask at an event like this one.”
Longview Eastman has been another heavy contributor to the anti-coronavirus campaign. Its financial support has been vital.
“The pandemic is obviously a major influence on our community’s health,” said Longview Eastman President Andrew Coggins. “Eastman is happy to support the effort by providing funds needed to get the Vaccine Hub.”
Mack made it clear he considered his work versus COVID-19 as something that had to be done, and that he was just one of many who have been doing their duty. This included City Manager Keith Bonds, Laura Hill, Police Chief Bishop and all the volunteers who selflessly worked behind the scenes, directing people on how to register and where to get vaccinations.
“It is nice to be honored, but I am just doing what is best for Longview,” he said. “In all this, I have not heard one person complain about helping our citizens.”
Dean expressed how he feels humbled just to be part of the team that founded and operates the Vaccine Hub, which has done such a great job that other cities are modelling their vaccine centers on Longview’s. He, too, pointed to his teammates’ great work in combating the pandemic.
“One of the things you should be proud of, is seeing your elected officials working together,” he said. “Todd did a great job, Judge Stoudt helped us financially, Mayor Mack made sure Longview buildings were open and used, the fire chief mustered his people and his good friend and partner, Police Chief Bishop.”
Chief Steelman attended the event with his fellow fire fighters and was careful to share the acclaim with all who earned it. He noted that a pandemic was not something he had anticipated when he became fire chief. He also cited the great working relationship between the city and county.
“I would not be standing here without my team and my brother in blue,” he said, pointing to Bishop. “To be a small part of it where we can finally leave our houses after one year is humbling.”
Both humbling and a great relief.