Wilson honored as finalist for Bud Kirkpatrick Award


 When Valerie Wilson got word from Sales & Marketing Professionals Pine Belt representatives that she’d been named a finalist for the Bud Kirkpatrick Professional Award, her first reaction was one of surprise.

“I wrote them back and said, ‘Are you sure you’ve got this right?’ said Wilson, who serves as the executive director for the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t have a portfolio of my sales and marketing stuff, and I don’t consider myself to be a sales and marketing person.”

But sure enough, Wilson was assured that she had been nominated for the award – which recognizes excellence in sales, marketing or civic engagement – for her work in helping Petal recover from the tornado that struck the Friendly City in January 2017. Wilson was officially honored with a finalist award March 6 at the Pinnacle Awards ceremony, held annually by Sales & Marketing Professionals Pine Belt at the Trent Lott Center at Southern Miss.

“It made me feel wonderful,” said Wilson, who has served at the chamber for five years. “I’ve always felt that if I had a real deficiency at something, it was my ability at sales and marketing.

“So it made me feel like my efforts here were actually being recognized outside of my own community, and outside of my own chamber members across the Pine Belt. So that was pretty awesome.”

Nominations for the award came from members of the community, at which point a review panel vetted those nominees down to 18 finalists.

“(Wilson) specifically (coordinated) some of their events that they put on after the tornado, for recovery,” said Kristen Brock, who served as chairperson for the Pinnacle Awards ceremony. “Also, (the nomination) was for the support that the chamber provided to their members after the tornado, and how quickly they bounced back with Valerie’s help.”

Michael Marks, immediate past president of Sales & Marketing Professionals Pine Belt, said Wilson’s work in Petal “has been stellar.”

“There’s no substitute in small communities for good leadership,” he said. “She exhibits that in her marketing and sales skills - and work relationships - in the city of Petal, for which we’re proud.”

The Bud Kirkpatrick Professional Award – which is named after Bud Kirkpatrick, who formerly served as director of public relations at Southern Miss – eventually went to Kent Oliver for his work with Laughs 4 Life Hattiesburg. Through that annual fundraising event, Oliver has helped raise more than $275,000 for myeloma research.

Other finalists for the award were Terri Bell of B Communications; David Clark of The Sleep Number Store; Kathryn Garner of the AIDS Services Coalition; Dr. Eddie Holloway of Southern Miss; Dr. Lynne Houston of William Carey University; Katie Martin of United Blood Services; and Dwight Owen, author and motivational speaker.

Although being named a finalist for the award is one of the biggest honors Wilson has received during her time at the chamber, she considers her accomplishments there a team effort.

“Petal has definitely gained a lot of recognition statewide,” she said. “It’s a combination of our schools and our great safety record, in terms of being the safest city in the state, and a great place to live.

“I feel like I’ve helped get that information out, and helped market us, and helped us get in the view of people who are looking to relocate. I think the other thing is marketing the city as not only a great place to live, but also as a great place to do business.”

The Pinnacle Awards’ highest honor, the Charlie Holt Pinnacle Award, was given to Extra Table, a Hattiesburg organization that helps provide nutritious food to soup kitchens and pantries throughout Mississippi. The award, which is named for the late Charlie Holt, the founder of Sales and Marketing Professionals Pine Belt, is given to the business or organization deemed to have the largest impact on the local community. 

Other finalists for the Charlie Holt Pinnacle Award were Accents; the African American Military History Museum; The Arc of Southeast Mississippi; the Area Development Partnership; City of Hattiesburg’s Neighborhood Development Department; the DuBard School for Language Disorders; Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services; and VisitHATTIESBURG.