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Tommy May Gets 1st ‘Legacy of Leadership’ Honor; Garver, Blankenship Win Executive of the Year Awards

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Dan Williams of Garver and Lynn Blankenship of Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic won executive of the year awards, and former Simmons First National Corp. CEO J. Thomas “Tommy” May was honored for his lifetime of leadership Wednesday at the 31st annual Arkansas Business of the Year Awards at the Little Rock Marriott.

Arkansas Business Publishing Group of Little Rock presents the awards each year to honor businesses, nonprofits and executives in Arkansas. Readers of Arkansas Business nominate executives and organizations for the awards, and an independent panel of judges determines the winners.

Williams won business executive of the year for his work as president and CEO of Garver of North Little Rock, an engineering firm that marks its centennial this year.

“Thank you to the Garver leadership and the staff,” Williams said during the event. “It’s an incredible bunch of people — it makes it much easier to lead a group of folks like that.”

Blankenship won nonprofit executive of the year for her work as executive director of Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic of Hot Springs, which aims to find a “long-term solution to the instability that comes with poverty.”

“One of the things that we try to say frequently at the nonprofit that I work in — I know we always say, ‘Well just pull yourself up by your bootstraps,'” Blankenship said. “But with the people I work with, they don’t have any boots. So just remember that.”

In one of two new awards presented Wednesday, Tommy May received the inaugural “Legacy of Leadership” award in honor of a nearly 50-year banking career leading publicly traded Simmons First and the nonprofit Simmons First Foundation. May retired in 2013, eight years after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

During his remarks, May said he thinks there has never been a more important time in the country’s history for caring mentors, and he encouraged those in the audience to fill that role. He also laid out his definition of leadership.

“Leadership is about vision. It’s about planning and providing a roadmap for our associates to follow. It’s about planing your work and working your plan,” he said. “It’s about helping others grow to be as good as they can be. It is about establishing a footprint for others to follow. It is about showing the way by following the Lou Holtz ‘do-right’ rule, establishing a culture of strong morality and ethics. And finally it is about having the right priorities.”

Arkansas Business also partnered with the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas to present the first “Gender Equity” award, which honors a company that has worked hard to foster equality in the workplace. The foundation partnered with the Clinton School of Public Service to create a survey to measure equality based on company metrics including financial literacy, flexibility, job skills, leadership, mentoring and resources.

Publicly traded telecommunications firm Windstream Holdings Inc. of Little Rock received the inaugural award.

Anna Beth Gorman, executive director of the Women’s Foundation, also announced that the award would be named in honor of Olivia Myers Farrell, who co-founded the foundation more than 20 years ago. Farrell is the founder and former CEO of Arkansas Business Publishing Group of Little Rock.

Other winners at Wednesday night’s event are listed below. Click their names to read their profiles and watch video from the awards event:

The Arkansas Community Foundation also presented its Smart Corporate Giving Awards to three businesses:

Arkansas Business will update this story with more photos and video from the event throughout the day.

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