In more than 80 years of life, Ray McDonald has, in his own words, never felt better than he did Thursday night at the annual Wayne County Chamber of Commerce banquet.
McDonald, the former mayor of Mount Olive, received the chamber's Cornerstone Award Thursday, in recognition of his multiple decades of service to Wayne County. A former Mount Olive alderman, Wayne County commissioner and then mayor of Mount Olive, McDonald announced last year that he would not seek re-election, instead throwing his support behind eventual winner Joe Scott.
At the banquet, held at the Goldsboro Event Center on Slocumb Street, longtime educator and close friend of McDonald's, Jimmy Williams, introduced McDonald. Williams recounted stories from the two meeting after Williams began teaching in Mount Olive and the two becoming fast friends. He introduced McDonald as someone who "makes things happen," and welcomed him on to the stage to a standing ovation.
McDonald teared up as he thanked his family for standing by him over the years. He took time to tell his family how proud he was of their contributions to Wayne County and said he looks forward to what the county can do in the future.
"I'll be 81 years old in February, and I've never felt better than I do right now talking about a county I really love, and that I know can do better things than we've already done," he said.
"I will always cherish this award, because it come from you, the Wayne County people."
The evening also saw 2017 chairman of the board, John Best, pass the gavel to Charles Gaylor IV, who will take up the mantle of chairman in 2018. Gaylor said he has his sights set on improving chamber event attendance beyond the already record-setting numbers of 2017.
"At this wonderful annual meeting and dinner, we are privileged to say that we have nearly 280 people in attendance. For everything we can find, that is a record," he said. "Next year, and this gets to my theme, I want to break 300. This is an annual meeting of the membership of our chamber, and I want to make quorum."
The chamber currently has around 600 members, and Gaylor said he wants to see all 600 attend at least one event in 2018. He said he hopes to increase the average attendance at chamber events by 10 percent, which he expects will happen naturally as the chamber continues to grow.
The chamber also awarded four other accolades -- two to local businesses and two to members of the chamber. Goldsboro Brew Works and owners Zak Fein and Carson Clark won 2017-2018 Small Business Startup of the Year, while Ram Rent-All and owner Clift McCall won 2017-2018 Small Business of the Year.
Barbara Bozeman was recognized as the chamber's 2017 Ambassador of the Year, for her hard work behind the scenes and behind the camera. Longtime chamber member Neal Benton was awarded the 2017 Ollie Toomey Volunteer Service Award, for his work in keeping the chamber running, securing funds and encouraging attendance to chamber events.