More than 2,000 people, the highest in the organization’s history, gathered in the Seaport Hotel in the Boston World Trade Center on Wednesday for the New England Council’s annual dinner to honor those they viewed as New Englanders of the Year.
The four awards are given to outstanding individuals in the six New England states. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the One Fund Boston, Robert Reynolds, president and chief executive officer of Putnam Investments and George Wein, chairman of the Newport Festivals Foundation, won the award. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino was also recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“It’s a real pleasure to see this happen,” said John Hailer, chairman of NEC. “Every year, this night is a great reminder of the commitment of the New England Council toward working together and improving to grow and expand to be an innovator and an expander of business around New England.”
The first award given was to Reynolds for having an impact on the New England economy, despite not growing up in the area. He was raised in West Virginia and moved north after college.
“We’re not always the easiest place for outsiders to come here and have a material impact,” said Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who introduced Reynolds. “I can’t think of another outsider who made a bigger impact in the business and philanthropic community of this region.”
After Reynolds accepted the award, Menino was introduced to a long, standing ovation by Hailer.
“Why is New England doing well?” Menino said in his acceptance speech. “It’s not Tom Menino. It’s my business community. It’s people who collaborate with me … Collaboration is how we get the job done, and that’s what’s happens with the New England Council.”
Wein, who started the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, was introduced by Berklee College of Music President Roger Brown and then played a jazz set after receiving the award.
Ayotte sent a pre-recorded acceptance speech that was screened following the set, but was not able to attend the ceremony due to negotiations in Washington to prevent a federal credit default.
“She is out doing God’s work,” Hailer said.
Last to be given an award was Feinberg. The Brockton native spoke for several minutes about his involvement in helping create funds in response to disasters such as the Newtown, Conn. shooting and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers. Even though he and his staff helped with the One Fund’s management, he said the city’s response to it was one of the most surprising moments of his life.
“Boston is a state of mind,” he said. “After the Aurora, Colorado movie shootings, [by] private giving, [we raised] $5 million. After the Virginia Tech shootings on the campus by the deranged student gunman, [we raised] $7 million. … After the Marathon bombings, in 60 days, [we raised] $61 million. It’s not an accident. I am amazed at the charitable impulse of the American people.”
Several Massachusetts residents in attendance said the night was a huge success.
“All the recipients were very impressive,” said Alicia Ianiere, 55, resident of Newton. “It’s tough [to say who deserved the award most], but you have to feel excited to see Menino receive [it because] of the recognition he is getting. As he’s retiring, people are putting a lot of retrospectives on his work, and when you see it in total, it’s really impressive.”
Mass. Rep. Kevin Honan said Ayotte was the one who most deserved her award.
“This was an enormously successful event for the New England Council,” he said. “The recipients were all very worthy … but when you look at Ayotte, she’s in her first term and she is doing her best in the Senate to work with Republicans and Democrats, to work through this impasse that is severely hurting our nation.”
Don Baldin, 52, resident of Winchester, said overall the night was great and he was glad to see Menino get honored.
“It was a wonderful evening, always is, because the Council is [their best] at what they do, advocating for New England,” he said. “They [the winners] were all deserving obviously, but you have to single out Mayor Menino for his contribution to the city over the last 20 years. They all deserved it, but Menino, I can’t help but single him out.”