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VOL. 126 | NO. 244 | Thursday, December 15, 2011

Message of Hope

Chamber luncheon highlights city’s ‘medical miracles’

By Andy Meek

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Bruce Hopkins, First Tennessee Bank’s president of banking for West Tennessee, couldn’t attend last year’s Greater Memphis Chamber annual chairman’s luncheon.

Angie Ware, Berlin Boyd and Mick Musarra chat with each other at the Greater Memphis Chamber annual chairman’s luncheon held at The Peabody hotel. 
(Photo: Kyle Kurlick)

And at this year’s celebratory bash held at The Peabody hotel, attended by hundreds of area business and civic leaders, the banking executive shared from the main stage the reason he couldn’t make it in 2010.

It was a deeply personal story about a life-threatening medical crisis he faced. An eye checkup had revealed a dangerous and extremely rare kind of tumor, and though friends encouraged Hopkins to seek treatment out of town at world-class centers, the First Tennessee executive thought he had what he needed here.

The retelling of his story was purposeful. It fit the luncheon’s theme this year of believing in the city’s miracles – specifically, its medical miracles.

Hopkins noted that his company’s slogan is “Powering Your Dreams.”

“And 12 months ago, that became much more than a slogan for me,” he said. “My dream was hoping for a medical miracle.”

He got one. Within two weeks of surgery – as the audience learned thanks to a video that featured interviews with Hopkins’ doctors – he was back at the office.

“You’re in the best hands (here) you could be in anywhere in the world,” Hopkins said.

The chamber’s annual event is meant to celebrate its accomplishments over the past year. And 2011 brought plenty to tout, with a string of economic development wins including announcements of new investment in Memphis by companies like Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc. and City Brewing Co.

This year’s luncheon, though, brought a more personal and emotional touch. It was about health care in the city, and how that’s entwined with the health of the city.

Kenneth Robinson, public health policy adviser in Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s office, said that one in every seven jobs in Memphis is in the biosciences.

Steve Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, said more than 50,000 people work in the bioscience industry in Memphis.

A handful of medical organizations, like University of Tennessee Health Science Center, are celebrating major milestones and anniversaries. UTHSC turned 100 years old in 2011.

That theme was woven throughout the luncheon, down to the food on the tables.

Appropriately, The Peabody’s executive culinary team prepared healthy meals for appetizers, the main course and dessert.

Staffers from Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital wrote and choreographed a music video shown at the event. The video showed the staff singing and performing its own version of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.”

But rather than the song’s catchy hook of, “Now you’re in New York. These streets will make you feel brand new…” the staff sang “Now you’re at Le Bonheur/we’ll fix you and make you brand new/our hearts will inspire you.”

Amid the commemoration of other medical advances, jobs, breakthroughs and personal stories like Hopkins’, the chamber introduced its new chairman of the board – Larry Cox, president and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority.

Cox assumes the chairmanship Jan. 1.

Cox told the crowd the chamber is gearing up for a busy 2012. He said the chamber’s economic development team is working 21 projects at the moment that have the potential to bring 7,000 new jobs to the city.

That’s why John Moore, the chamber’s president and CEO, said “I always love this annual event. It gets me charged up again for next year to go out with the team.”

A video showing the year’s highlights was put together with a creative touch. It showed the performance a few weeks ago of local band FreeSol on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

Interspersed throughout the performance were video clips of local highlights from the year, culminating with Letterman’s thanks to the band and his apparent interest in coming to Memphis: “Don’t be surprised if you see us down there taking care of business.”

Chamber staff thought ahead to make sure and have boxes of tissue on each table. Because the event wrapped up with a performance by country band Alabama’s lead singer Randy Owen and five children from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Owen, a longtime St. Jude supporter, led the patients in a performance of “Angels Among Us.” Each time the chorus came around, he handed the mike to the children, all of whom were gathered in a semicircle on stage and singing loudly, five pint-sized testaments to miracles that happen every day at St. Jude and across Memphis.

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