Banquet Delivers

Published 9:08 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Atmore City Councilman John Garrard was honored by the Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Above, Garrard looks at his award with his wife, Fonda.|Photo by Adam Prestridge

Following his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, John Garrard settled into Atmore with his wife, Fonda, and dug his roots in deep.

The Flora, Miss. native poured all of his efforts into improving the way of life in this small south Alabama town in many ways. From molding students into productive citizens as a teacher at Escambia County High School to his countless years of civic work with numerous organizations, Garrard has served his community with pride, and continues to do so today, more than 60 years later.

Garrard who currently serves as a city councilman, and has for 16 years, was awarded the Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award Tuesday night at The Club.

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“I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said following a standing ovation in his honor. “I look around this room and see friends I’ve had since 1949 and some from before.”

Humbled by the presentation, Garrard put his arm around Fonda and held her tight as he spoke.

“I’m going to bring one (friend) right here,” he said as he pulled Fonda close. “For anyone who thinks you can’t fall in love with your pen pal, you can. When I went into the military this was my pen pal since I was a teenager.”

Longtime friend and former student, Tim Currie, had the honor or announcing Garrard as the recipient of the award.

“This is a man that is so involved in Atmore, that everybody knows him,” Currie said.

Garrard graduated high school as valedictorian and immediately entered the military. He graduated from Millsaps College with a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration and a minor in secondary education. He worked at ECHS from 1949-1953, has worked in various capacities at First National Bank & Trust for the last 58 years, was a member of the Atmore Rotary Club for 30 years, the Atmore Public Library board for 48 years, Fountain Prison Ministry for 15 years and was named Atmore Citizen of the Year in 1981.

“Upon retiring, he could have picked up his heels and relaxed, but he didn’t,” Currie said. “He stayed involved.”

Currie described Garrard as somebody with “the epitome of what our Lord expected from His human creation,” as he introduced him.

“Atmore has taken us in, in many ways,” Garrard said. “And I appreciate every one of you and love every one of you. I don’t think I deserve this, but it’s great to think that you think I deserve it.”

Even after all of his service to the community, Garrard remained humble stating he still had work to do.

“I’m still trying to pay my civic debt to Atmore,” he said. “I told Howard (Shell) I’m this close to paying off my civic debt. I’ve been doing it for 16 years and I guess the question is whether I’ll go for 20.”

Also recognized Tuesday night was Greater Escambia Council for the Arts Artistic Director Phil Johnson who was named Atmore’s 2010 Citizen of the Year.

Johnson was taken back by the surprise, but was also humble in receiving his award.

“GECA has been a dream, but I haven’t done it by myself,” he said. “It has very much been a team operation.”

Johnson thanked his counterpart, Jerry Janes, who has shared the same vision, along with many others in the community with their love for the arts.

“Jerry Janes and I had the dream,” Johnson said. “To be honest, he told me we should do more than one performance a year. So now we do it all year long. And what a dream it is to see this little town with a theatre.”

Johnson’s wife, Shea, and children, Ellen and Daniel, joined him.

The evening focused on bettering Atmore’s future during uncertainty. The night’s speaker, former Auburn University basketball coach Sonny Smith spoke on setting things right and “planning” for the future or success may not come easy.

Later, incoming Chamber President Cereal Daniel challenged the organization’s directors to help the Chamber by following through with their duties on the board.

“We are not where we were three years ago,” he said. “We’ve come a long way, but we are not where we need to be either. The future is unknown, but we can shape our future today. There are gaps today that need to be mitigated. We have talent and diversity on our board and I challenge the board and our members to bring something to the table to close those gaps. Atmore is a great place and we hold the future of it in our hands.”

Phil Johnson was honored as the Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce's 2010 Citizen of the Year at the 65th Annual Meeting. Above, Johnson is pictured with his wife, Shea; his son, Daniel and his daughter, Ellen.|Photo by Adam Prestridge