By Sarah Mansheim
A crowd of over 200 enjoyed an evening at The Greenbrier on Tuesday night for the annual Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce meeting.
Business people and politicians were treated to cocktails and a dinner of steak Oscar while honoring 2016 Business Leader of the Year Cathey Sawyer, producing artistic director of Greenbrier Valley Theatre, and recognizing Coldwell Banker as the Best Small Business of the Year, as voted by chamber of commerce members.
Sawyer was introduced by GVT actress Kim Morgan Dean, who said, “To work for Cathey is to constantly reach for the high bar,” both artistically and economically. Dean noted the challenges in working in the nonprofit world of the arts, where every day, artistic expression meets the constant need to fundraise.
Dean illustrated Sawyer’s dedication to both sides of the theater world with a charming rendition of “Putting it Together,” from the Stephen Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park with George.” Dean adjusted the lyrics to reflect Sawyer’s daily balancing act of art and commerce, and brought down the house with her song.
When Sawyer spoke, she addressed the chamber of commerce fittingly: she spoke to the economic end. “The arts are good for the economy,” she told the audience.
Citing a statistic that says every one-dollar investment in GVT nets a $7 return, Sawyer told the chamber that the vibrant art scene is key to keeping a small town like Lewisburg economically viable.
Sawyer also sang her own praises of GVT’s education program, which, she said, provides a home for many children who may not excel in sports activities. Those children need theater, she insisted, and said how proud she was that GVT has provided a home for so many children who otherwise may not have a creative outlet.
Thanking her “wonderful staff and board of trustees,” Sawyer told the audience, “We believe in the art of theater for what it can do for the community and the economy.”
Following Sawyer’s speech, Chamber President Alyson Dotson presented Tom Johnson of Coldwell Banker with the 2016 Small Business of the Year award. Former West Virginia House of Delegates member and Lewisburg businessman Tom Campbell then gave the invocation, borrowing a prayer from President Thomas Jefferson.
Following dinner, guest speaker Dr. Jerome A. Gilbert, president of Marshall University, gave the keynote speech highlighting the ways he sees Marshall’s emergence as an education leader in the coming years. Such leadership is necessary, Gilbert said: the “Grand Challenge” of the coming generation will be a total world population of 10 billion people by the year 2050. “We’ll need double the amount of food we have now,” he said. “We need creative solutions, and I believe that students WILL save the world.”