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|WM/WO chamber honors Godwin, Norris|
Former Ouachita Parish Sheriff Laymon Godwin was the guest of honor at the West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce annual Christmas gala. It was held Thursday, Dec. 18, at West Monroe Convention Center.
The former three-term sheriff was the 2008 recipient of the A.O. Evans Award, the highest honor bestowed by the chamber.
Chamber president Mary Ann Newton said the chamber's board of directors chose Godwin for the award not just for his years in public service but also because of his years of community service at nursing homes and churches.
"He was in a position where he could have just retired and gone to the house, but he didn't do that," said Newton, following the event. "He's proven himself a worthy recipient with his years of community service and leadership."
Newton singled out Godwin's musical talent as one way the former sheriff continued to serve.
"He and his band frequently play at the veteran's home and in assisted living communities," Newton said.
The chamber's annual award was named after A.O. Evans, who founded the West Monroe Merchant's Association in 1956.
"He established the organization because he felt like the existing organization that served businesses in Monroe and West Monroe was not adequately representing West Monroe interests," Newton said. "He felt like more emphasis should be placed on West Monroe and it could be done so more effectively by having an independent organization."
The West Monroe Merchant's Association was later rechartered and became the West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce.
Newton said the award was named in Evans' honor because of his service to the community and his visionary leadership.
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris was also the recipient of a surprise honor at the chamber gala, when the chamber board presented him with a portrait of his family by local photographer Patty Stewart. The award was presented in honor of Norris' 30 years as mayor.
Newton said the honor was well deserved because of the work Norris has done in West Monroe.
"The chamber decided to present him with a gift for recognition and gratitude for his three decades of service to the city," Newton said.
Norris called the honor a complete surprise and said that, while he normally dislikes surprises, he would "let this one slide."
"I hate to be surprised but it was a nice thing they did," said Norris, who began his 31st year as mayor on July 1.
"I guess I can forgive the surprise part of it," Norris added.
Norris credited much of the success as mayor to former West Monroe Mayor Bert Hatten, who introduced Norris and presented him with the portrait. Hatten served as mayor of West Monroe from 1966-1978.
"In any political office, it's always good to follow someone who did a good job," Norris said. "He (Hatten) certainly did that, laid a good foundation and made it easy to do a good job."
Norris said Hatten's tenure as mayor left him little choice but to succeed.
"If you were going to follow that, you'd have to do a good job not to get run out of town on a rail," Norris said.
The annual Christmas Gala has become one of the highlights of the chamber's calendar of events each year. Newton said the 2008 event was no exception and was the best-attended gala yet.
"We had the largest crowd we've ever had for a West Monroe annual event," Newton said. "It was just tremendous."
Norris called the event "a great party" and added, coming from him that's a huge compliment.
"I'm not much of a party guy," Norris said. "So if I say it was a nice party, it must have been nice."
Norris said one of the highlights of the event was the opportunity to hear a recap of the work the chamber has done during the year and catching a glimpse of things to come in 2009.
"The chamber and the city have worked very closely in the last few years, particularly since Mary Ann Newton has been there," Norris said. "Their focus is community development, trying to make the area a better place to live, and improve the quality of life."