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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

2009 Bristol Mayors' Awards Announced

Catherine DeCaterina
Catherine DeCaterina

Cathy DeCaterina Honored


*** Published: April 27, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***

BRISTOL, Tenn. He was an consummate emergency responder. She a tireless arts promoter.

He spent his life as a firefighter and paramedic, aiding the injured.

She spent her life as a vocalist and drama coach, guiding her young pupils onto the stage.

On Sunday, Johnny Earl Morphew Jr. and Catherine DeCaterina were honored for that work each given a Bristol Mayors' Award of Distinction on the very stage that she helped to return to the community.

The mayors' awards honor those whose heroism has gone unsung, said Bristol Mayors Joel Staton, Tennessee, and James Rector, Virginia, who together created the program two years ago.

The goal is to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the community and have done so without seeking public credit, Staton said.

Rector said there are two kinds of people in this world: Those who do the work, and those who take the credit.

"That's my philosophy on life," Rector said Sunday. "In today's society, it seems like the people in office are often the ones who get the recognition, and it's the people behind the scenes who do the work."

The auditorium was about half-full for the 2 p.m. ceremony, which featured several speakers. The Virginia Middle School Honors Choir kicked off the event with a music medley. Immediately following, the keynote speaker was introduced, Sharyn McCrumb, a New York Times best selling author who traveled to Bristol for the event.

Then the accomplishments of the honorees were read aloud.

Morphew's wife, Terry, and daughter Mallory accepted the award on his behalf. Morphew died in January, after his car was hit by a drunk driver traveling the wrong way on the southbound lanes of Interstate 81.

"I think if my Dad were here today he would say how important it is to honor people while they're still here," Mallory Morphew said after the ceremony.

Morphew was a career firefighter with Bristol Virginia for 16 years and a volunteer firefighter with the Chilhowie department for 17 years. He was the first flight paramedic hired by Wellmont One when the Wellmont Health System Flight Program was created. He held numerous emergency responder certifications, and was an instructor for the Virginia Office of Emergency Management Services.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Morphew decided to learn to play the bagpipes, and often could be heard practicing at the fire station.

"Morphew was an extraordinary citizen and a dedicated public servant," the mayors and the awards committee said in a written statement announcing the honors. "He was an inspiration to all that knew him and his legacy will continue to live on through his family, the patients he cared for, the citizens of our region, and the scores of EMS personnel that he helped to train."

DeCaterina, who founded Theatre Bristol in the 1970s, had a vision for the Paramount Theater after it shuttered its doors in disrepair in 1979. She shared her dream with the community: It could be a center for the arts. So the owner donated the building to the community through Theatre Bristol and in the trust of DeCaterina.

By 1987, the Paramount Foundation was created, and the building had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1991, the renovated facility reopened as the Paramount Center for the Arts.

"DeCaterina's dream of bringing the art of theatre to people of all ages continues to be fulfilled, and her kindness, generosity, vision, and love for her community and its citizens have greatly enriched us all," the mayors and the committee said in the written statement.

Before Sunday's ceremony, Staton said the award recipients were decided by an independent board of judges residents from both sides of the city, picked personally by the mayors, who then "stepped out of the process completely."

Jim Geiger, who chaired the judges panel, said the recipients were chosen among many folks who were nominated by the community for their "outstanding contributions."

"The best thing about this committee, and serving on it, is that you get to read about all the good things that people have done for this community," Geiger said. "It would probably make a good book."

After the ceremony, DeCaterina and Morphew's family were swamped onstage by well-wishers and members of the community. Cameras flashed, handshakes abounded and congratulations as well as condolences were offered.

"We're very touched," Mallory Morphew said. "It's so important to recognize everyone's contributions. My dad would have been touched."