Chamber honors local businesses

Published 7:43 pm Saturday, January 30, 2010

Staff Writer

Downtown champion Gary Tomasulo was posthumously awarded the Community Leader of the Year honor by the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce.
The award was presented by Chris Furlough, past chairman of the chamber, Thursday night during the chamber’s 107th-annual banquet in Washington.
A plaque was accepted by Tomasulo’s wife, Marie, and his son, Gary Tomasulo Jr.
The elder Tomasulo, longtime president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, died after falling from a fire escape in September 2009.
He was “a man of passion for his family, his friends and his community,” Furlough told around 200 chamber guests and members.
Tomasulo and his wife moved to the area in 2001 and immediately became involved in downtown Washington, Furlough remarked.
The couple started a new business, La Bella Pizzeria, he said.
Tomasulo helped found the monthly Music in the Streets festival, and was involved in numerous activities promoting the city, Furlough related.
Tomasulo was moved to Washington from Long Island, N.Y., Furlough said.
“This individual was not from this area, yet there was no doubt he was a bona fide … non-Southerner,” he joked.
His friends and colleagues might have disagreed with Tomasulo at times, but they couldn’t question his zeal for downtown, Furlough commented.
“It makes us realize that our goal is not to finish, but to perpetuate because our work is never done,” he said.
In other developments, the Small Business Leader of the Year award was presented to Stewart’s Jewelry Store by Mitch St. Clair.
The award was accepted by Betty Stewart, owner.
“For over a century, this store has been a mainstay of downtown Washington,” St. Clair said.
Also, the chamber Ambassador of the Year nod went to Alma Friedman; and the Business Leader of the Year accolade was given to WIMCO Corp.
WIMCO’s award was accepted by members of the Rawls family, who own the construction business.
The evening’s guest speaker was David Hartman, a former co-host of ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Hartman was introduced by Ashley B. “Brownie” Futrell Jr., publisher of the Washington Daily News, which sponsored the speaker’s appearance.
Hartman co-hosted “GMA” for nearly 12 years, Futrell said.
A onetime Broadway and television actor, and an accomplished musician, Hartman also is an award-winning TV documentarian, Futrell told the crowd.
Focusing on challenges faced by small newspapers in an increasingly hostile new-media environment, Hartman applauded the Washington Daily News for staying in the fight.
The Daily News celebrated its centennial last year. The paper has been run by the Futrells for more than 60 years.
Hartman asserted that “it takes commitment, along with a lot of gritty, hard work” for newspapers to unearth information and convey it to the public on a daily basis.
“In the news business, what I just described is excellence,” he said. “It is what great newspapers do.”
Hartman noted that most electronic media use print media as source material for stories, disseminating newspaper-derived stories while doing very little original reporting.
As exceptions, he cited PBS news programs, National Public Radio and the former big three national networks’ nightly news broadcasts.
Despite their importance in providing reliable information, newspapers are declining, Hartman pointed out.
Papers have lost 10 percent of their circulation in the past 12 months, he said.
Turning to financial challenges, publishers haven’t figured out how to make newspapers’ Web sites more profitable, Hartman observed.
“Newspapers’ revenues have continued to plummet,” he said. “Staffs are shrinking. … More and more people are reading newspapers’ Web sites, but at the expense of newspapers’ sales.”
Hartman acknowledged that he didn’t have the answer to newspapers’ troubles, but he encouraged his listeners to scan the Daily News’ Web site every day then go out and buy the print edition.
He referenced the First Amendment, which grants the right of free speech.
“What a gift that line is to all of us in America,” he said, “but journalists can’t do it alone.”
Hartman urged the group to delve into sources they don’t agree with instead of cherry-picking only those news outlets that echo their viewpoints.
Hartman also highlighted the Daily News’ Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, an honor the newspaper shared with the Philadelphia (Pa.) Inquirer.
The award was announced nearly 20 years ago, on April 12, 1990.
The Daily News won the Pulitzer for a series of stories about contaminants in the City of Washington’s water supply.
The series, authored by reporters Mike Voss and Betty Mitchell Gray, led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to change regulations on water supplies across the country, Hartman said.
Later, Futrell led a standing ovation for Gray and Voss, who hugged as the audience cheered.