Today’s annual recognition of the winners of WCHL’s Village Pride Award Winners was a lovely affair. The luncheon was put on at the Carolina Inn and recognized 254 “hometown heroes” (as they call us) that received the award in 2004. In my opinion, not enough thanks went to Ron Stutts, who is the real ‘hero’ of the Village Pride Awards.
As one of these award recipients I can tell you the standards are low, and that’s a good thing. This allows room for many definitions of community service, from volunteering in the schools to doing a good job at work to raising money for charities to being an elected official to bitching about elected officials (that’s me 😉 *). The group was quite diverse and fairly representative of many aspects of our community.
The speakers were funny and engaging, especially WCHL owner Jim Heavner. He’s quite a talker – the man was obviously born for radio. Heavner was also thanked a number of times for bringing this local radio station back home (he bought it back after selling it to a company that all but eliminated the local programming and played tapes out of Durham).
The keynote speaker was Howard Lee, who will always be remembered as the courageous visionary to become the first elected black mayor of a mostly-white southern town in 1969. I’m not sure how he has also been remembered as the creator of the Chapel Hill bus system, which was actually started by students at UNC in 1968.
After several terms as Mayor and some other less successful attempts at higher office, Lee was appointed as secretary of a state agency in 1977, and then represented Chapel Hill in the N.C. state senate from 1990-1994 and 1996-2002. In the state legislature, Lee was a powerful deal-maker, and a good friend to business leaders and UNC administrators.
Many local residents will never forget the time he slipped in a state budget rider that would have stripped Chapel Hill of all zoning authority over the campus, and then took credit for killing the rider after a public outcry. Now he’s the chair of the State Board of Education, and is apparently failing to support comprehensive sex education. I’m not sure when it happened, but over time this community’s values and Lee’s values have diverged from each other.
You can tell that I don’t agree with Howard Lee about much of anything these days, but he is an apt symbol for this community: liberal on the surface, but in deed we are resisting social change as much as ever. We take a lot of ‘village pride’ in that liberal reputation, but we often don’t put our money (or our bodies) where our collective mouth is. But I honestly don’t think it’s much better in other places, and this is my home, warts and all.
* I was being honored for starting OrangePolitics.org, but in the program for the event, they listed the address of a website that was started as an alternative to OP. Ooops!