A large group of Jefferson County business and governmental leaders turned out Friday to say goodbye to Don Cason, who has led the work of the County Chamber of Commerce for the past eight years.
Cason and his wife, Kim, were honored at a reception at the Hampton Inn of Dandridge, where Chamber members, friends and colleagues came to thank them for their contributions to the Chamber and the county. The couple will be moving to North Carolina where, effective August 1, they will become managers of the historic Esmerelda Inn of Chimney Rock.
Cason was described by city, county and Chamber leaders as a man of vision, faith and passion, who worked to move the community forward by spearheading creation of the first strategic plan. Under his leadership, the first public-private partnership for funding a staff to pursue economic development was also formed, and the Chamber expanded its work.
He came into the community and recognized right away the need for a vision, recalled Max Fultz, a former Chamber board of directors chairman, and current chair of the Economic Development Oversight Committee.
“Building a Better Future has come to life, and we’re seeing the fruits of it based on his efforts, and the work of so many citizens that Don brought together to work for a common goal.”
Fultz noted that a German company announced earlier Friday that it was coming to Dandridge, creating 32 jobs and investing several million dollars. “Without having Building A Better Future … they would probably have never known about Jefferson County.”
Bill Black, who has chaired the steering committee of Building A Better Future since its inception, said he knows of no one “with more passion for his job, for his county and for this strategic plan that we have. Without Don Cason, it would have fallen apart. He pushed, he prodded, he patted on the back … he did a lot of things to keep it going. Because of that, a lot of good things have happened.”
Black cautioned that the level of services in the county is going to go down “unless we get more income coming in … and we need to do that through industrial development.”
County Mayor Alan Palmieri praised Cason for persevering under sometimes difficult circumstances. There’s an almost equal divide on many issues in the county, Palmieri observed.
“One of the strengths that Don Cason has is that he has been able to function under one of the most diverse, difficult conditions anyone could imagine,” the mayor said.
“The accomplishments have been outstanding under Don’s leadership. He has been blamed for things he didn’t deserve to be blamed for, pressured to do things he didn’t want to, always with a smile on his face, moving forward. I have an enormous amount of respect for him, and a deep appreciation for what he has done.”
Dandridge Mayor George Gantte presented Cason with a proclamation from the town, thanking him for all he has done.
“We appreciate the time, effort and enthusiasm he has brought to this job,” Gantte said. “He’s done a superb job. He’s represented each municipality and our county in a very positive image.”
Bible and Black both pointed to Cason’s spiritual strength and integrity. “When think of Don, two things come to mind: He knows the God he serves, and he serves Him every day, and he’s a man that walks with integrity,” said Bible. “What a combination, and what a privilege to have him in our community for eight years.”
Black noted that every Chamber meeting he has attended with Cason has begun with prayer. “He prayed for those who were there, but he prayed for the county also.”
In his remarks, Cason deflected the praise that had been directed his way, saying that “none of this would would have been possible without all of you, and Jefferson County, agreeing that we do need to work together to build a better future.
“You came together and you approved the plan, implemented and funded it. From that, we got a great and dynamic staff … the best staff in this region.
Thank you so much for coming together, and having the fortitude to look forward and build a better future.”
Cason recalled initial conversations with community leaders when he took the job – many of whom were in the room Friday. Though each said it in a slightly different way, all expressed the need to work together for a better future.
“I appreciate all that he’s done,” Fultz said. “He set the foundation. It’s our job now to make it better.”
The departing Chamber CEO thanked his staff for their love, support, and hard work. He thanked community leaders who have served on the board of directors, the economic development board, county commission, and all the city councils and mayors.
“My hope for you is to remember what Proverbs says … those without a vision will perish,” he said, in closing. “So please, continue the vision, continue to work together, to create a better future for all of our citizens.
“Jefferson County has a special place in my heart, and always will …”