Wednesday, February 21, 2018




Heroic acts, dedicated helpers honored at 2018 Panola County chamber banquet

By Meredith Shamburger
Feb. 10, 2018 at 11:05 a.m.

2017 Citizen of the Year Pat Smith is honored by 2016 Citizen of the Year Bob Harness at the 2018 Panola County Chamber of Commerce banquet.

Three Panola County deputies who saved a woman's life; a Carthage woman who's helped hundreds, if not thousands, in the wake of natural disasters; and two Panola County residents who have tirelessly worked to support the chamber.

Those were just some of the many people honored Thursday at the annual Panola County Chamber of Commerce banquet, as business and community leaders recognized the people who have put time and effort into supporting and advancing the region and its people.

For the ones deciding who got the awards this year, it meant choosing between a lot of worthy people. 2017 Panola County Chamber Board Chairman Tami Abernathy, in handing out the Chairman's Award, said she knew immediately who she wanted to nominate — except two different names came to mind, and she was forced to really think on it. Picking Kevin Whitsett and his wife Kristi, Abernathy said, was the end result.

"You don't have to say 'Hey, can you do this for us?'" Abernathy said. "They're already there and they're wanting to know what they can do. To me, that's the best type of person that you could have in an organization like this."

"These are two truly beautiful souls," Abernathy would later add.

The 2017 honorees are: Tresa Joffrion, receiving the Rising Star Award for furthering the goals of Carthage Main Street; Raymond Schieffer, in recognition of 25 years of service as treasurer of the Panola County Development Foundation; Leah Adams, as Panola County Development Foundation President; Kathy Worley and Kathy's Cuties, as the leading Ambassador team; Renee Nolan, as the Arthur M. Johnson Ambassador of the Year; Jean Thomas as Ambassador President; R.H. Ritter, Jeretta Thompson, Donna Porter and Kay Garrett, for their service on the Board of Directors; Kevin and Kristi Whitsett, receiving the Chairman's Award; and Tami Abernathy, for service as the Chairman of the Board.

The 2017 Employees of the Year were Panola County Sheriff's Deputies Chris Dickerson, Travis Curry and Calahan Malone. Carthage resident Pat Smith was named 2017 Citizen of the Year.

2016 Employee of the Year Walter Weston explained the award is given "to the person who's gone above and beyond their job description. Someone who's always done their job without seeking recognition."

Dickerson, Curry and Malone were honored for a Dec. 11, 2017 rescue of a woman from a burning home in Fairplay. The trio of men were the first to arrive on the scene, where they learned a woman was trapped.

"With flames coming from the roof, with no regard for their own safety, these men jumped into action," Weston said.

Their actions are credited with saving the woman's life. That's also something that the 2017 Citizen of the Year was recognized for. Smith was recognized Thursday for her work in disaster relief, often feeding, sheltering and taking care of hurricane victims in her own home.

Smith has sprung into action numerous times, from Hurricane Katrina and the Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes to Hurricane Harvey. It was after Harvey hit Houston last year that Smith put a call out on Facebook and began collecting supplies for the evacuees moving north. Smith helped organize distribution centers, donation drives and more before going down to the Houston area to help rip out flooded homes.

On Thursday, she declined to take credit for all the work, pointing to the dozens of volunteers who helped her in her mission.

"All I had to do is put out a message and say I need it and someone was already there," Smith said.

After the awards presentations, the audience was entertained by Tiffany Nicole Taylor, who opened for Johnny Counterfit. He used voice impressions of Traditional Country & Pop singers, Hollywood legends, and comedians to entertain the audience for the evening.

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