Award-winning novelist Pat Conroy and Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Blakely Williams see the organization's newest annual award in slightly different lights.
"When people like Pat Conroy have such a microphone to tell the world how wonderful Beaufort is, we want to show how much we appreciate them," Williams said of the Pat Conroy Palmetto Achievement Award, which the writer accepted Friday night during the chamber's annual Civitas Awards Dinner.
Conroy, without missing a beat, joked that he must have outlived his enemies if the Beaufort community is honoring him with an annual award.
That said, he does have some hopes for the honorees who come after him.
"I hope they're not complete jerks; I hope they're not wife-beaters; I hope they're not racists; I hope they're good people and the kind of people who will help make this town even better," he said.
On a more serious note, Conroy said that Beaufort, a town he moved to as a youth, has become something more than he ever imagined, and certainly more than the setting and inspiration for many of his books.
"Two questions a military brat can never answer is "where are you from' and 'where are you going to be buried,'" he told the audience. "I can now answer that. I am from Beaufort. And this is where I'm going to be buried."
The chamber's top honor -- the Lifetime Achievement Award -- went to Susan Cato, who has been executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Association for 29 years.
Cato became took the helm three days after CAPA opened its Open Arms Shelter for Abused and Neglected Children in 1985, and volunteered beforehand while the shelter was being built.
From a $52,000 budget in the beginning that funded a handful of programs, CAPA now has an annual operating budget of $1 million, employs 23 people, has sheltered 2,113 children and works with 6,000 children and adults annually.
"I think that each and every person can make a difference if you just help one person, and then the world would be a better place," she said.
In addition to announcing awards, chamber officials looked forward to upcoming projects, including the coming of Lockheed Martin and the F-35 fighter jets to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Outgoing chamber board president Steven Murray, who will be succeeded by Will Achurch, said the chamber, businesses, local governments and residents need to work together to build a stronger community.
"As we celebrate our successes, we still must remember the work to be done," he said.
Other 2014 Civitas Winners
Tourism Leadership: ASE'-Gullah Education LLC
Outstanding Employee: Tracey Robinson of the Wardle Family YMCA
Outstanding Lowcountry Young Professional: Stephanie Greene of River Oaks Assisted Living
Outstanding Leadership Beaufort Alumni: Jack Cunningham
Outstanding Non-Profit: Second Helpings
Community Stewardship: Harris Pillow Supply
Excellence in Free Enterprise: Sea Eagle Market
Regional Economic Impact: Heritage Classic Foundation
Non-commissioned Officer of the Year: Cpl. Juan A. Garay, U.S. Marine Corps
Junior Enlisted Service Member of the Year: LCpl. Timothy J. Zawiski , U.S. Marine Corps
Military Citizenship: Lt. Col. W.R. "Skeet" VonHarten, retired U.S. Marine Corps
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.