“The only thing that could have made the night better is if Willie Nelson himself had showed up,” John Hazen White Jr. said yesterday.
White, the president and CEO of Taco Manufacturing, was the recipient of the West Bay Chapter and the Rhode Island League of Women Voters Man of the Year Award June 27. The league selected White for the award, the first time they have recognized a man with the distinction, for all of his community efforts.
But organizers of the event wanted to do more than present White with a plaque. They had some fun “roasting” him and they had hoped singer Willie Nelson could join them.
White said, “I am honored to have received the award, especially since I am the first man to. The League of Women Voters do tremendous things for good government, and it is a privilege to be recognized by them.”
On June 27 150 people joined at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence to honor White.
White’s photo and bio was a centerpiece to each table. He walked into the ballroom to an applauding audience escorted by three college students wearing tuxedos. Johnny Carson’s “Here’s Johnny” played over the sound system.
Jane Koster, the president of the State League, and Helen Taylor, the president of the West Bay chapter, both made speeches in praise of White. The roasters for the evening included Todd Facey, senior vice president of Taco Inc., Dan Yorke from WPRO, Aram Garabedian, president of Bliss Properties and managing partner of Warwick Mall, Matt Light, a former New England Patriots offensive tackle, Bill Dessell, co-founder of Keel Vodka, and former Attorney General Arlene Violet. The roasters had the audience laughing all night.
White said, “Everyone had good, clean jokes. They all had different backgrounds with me, but they all talked about my hair, my hugs – I’m a big hugger – my little dog, who I love so much, and my family.”
White was privileged to receive citations from many politicians throughout the night and the City of Cranston. The night itself was to award White with the Man of the Year award from the League of Women Voters. Along with the award, White was also given a gift, one that took Taylor quite a while to find.
Willie Nelson is White’s favorite artist and Taylor tried to have Nelson appear for the event, but unfortunately he was on vacation. Nelson’s manager then suggested that Taylor get Nelson’s “best friend: whiskey.” Nelson had owned a distillery in Kentucky that produced whiskey that had shut down. Taylor wanted to get White a bottle to commemorate winning the Man of the Year Award.
“I searched from Rhode Island to California with no luck,” Taylor said.
In the cellar of a large liquor store in New Haven, Conn., covered in cobwebs and dirt, was a bottle of Nelson’s Old Whiskey River with a signed guitar pick. White received the gift as Nelson’s song “Old Whisky River” played through the ballroom. White said he will not be drinking the whiskey nor using the guitar pick.
To end the night, White danced with his wife to “Wonderful Tonight.” The couple received a standing ovation.
White said, “The one thing I know for sure is that if we want to change our government for the better, we can only do it with voter turnout.”
Although still unsure how much money was raised through the event, the League of Women Voters will be using the funds for voter registration, the local candidate forum and lobbying at the State House.