Bottom line of Y lunch: More than profit matters

Published April 17, 2005

Businesses give back to their communities because it is good business to do so.

That's the message Tom James, chairman and chief executive officer of Raymond James Financial, delivered Wednesday at the first Businesses Building a Better Community luncheon given by the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg.

The event, held in the ballroom at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, raised $35,000 for the Y.

"We give to education because we've got to have a talent pool," James said.

Civic involvement makes for better infrastructure, better communities, better bases for hiring, even better-quality hospitals, James said. His company contributes to Tampa Bay area educational institutions because they "attract good people to this community," he said.

James was 3 when his family moved to St. Petersburg. He spent a lot of time at the old downtown YMCA at Fifth Street between First and Second avenues S, then followed a girl with whom he was enamored to Bartlett Park, where his passion for tennis was fueled.

His late father, Bob, started the business in 1962 with $20,000. Tom James joined the company four years later and was named president and CEO during the bleak years of 1969-74, when "you couldn't find a way to sell a stock."

He and the business he leads contribute in numerous ways because, he said, "In my case, I remember from whence I came."

Jay Fleece and Mary Evertz were co-chairs of the luncheon committee. Founding investors recognized were Acordia and Jim Henderson, First Advantage Corp., Raymond James Financial, Allied International Holdings and RBC Dain Rauscher. Dick Crippen was master of ceremonies.

Attendees included Mayor Rick Baker; YMCA president and chief executive Doug Linder, Steve Raymund, Darryl LeClair, Don Shea, Bill Stover, Karen White, Jeff Harring, Bob Shuck, Cary Putrino, Ann Rogers, Joel Momberg, Bill McQueen, Stephanie Goforth, Cris Coffin, Roy Binger, Jill Wilkinson, Harvey Ford, Roger Zeh, the Rev. Louis Murphy, Bernie Craig, Joe Fleece, Cynthia Fleece, Bud Evertz, the Rev. Chris Thompson, Covington Sharp, Jerry Hill, Marshall an d Wendi Stevens, Carol Sue Stevens, Angelo Cappelli and Dr. Al Geiger.

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Resplendent in sequins and dazzling chandelier earrings, a froth of pink adorning her shiny green dress, Sweet Potato Queen Jill Conner Browne took the stage at the Palladium on Wednesday evening to deliver a performance that was by turns humorous, motivational and spiritual.

"Everybody really did get here with a gift," she said in a serious moment during the benefit for the St. Petersburg Free Clinic. "You need to be using that. If you lift it up, God will honor it."

Facing an audience that included women wearing blinking tiaras and glow-in-the-dark jewelry, she said: "The power of play has magical powers of healing and restoration. Don't wait to live."

Susan Hansen of St. Petersburg won a crown crafted by the jewelry designer for the Metropolitan Opera in New York and that Browne donated. Hansen said she would rent it for $100 a night, with proceeds going to the clinic.

The Tierra Verde Sand Queens formed a contingent, and I also saw Norm and Nancy Dusseault, Bob and Nancy Siver, Bill and Hazel Hough, Sally Poynter, Diane Bailey, Edie Spies, Ann Foster, Patsy Dunlap, Bill Thomas, Jane Trocheck Walker, Toni Calabrese, Amy Buckspan, Donna Painter, Chris Agee, Susan Harvard, Diane Winning, Murray Beairsto, Melissa Rutland, Jane Randall Kirby, Jean G. Irwin, Patty Gassner, Anne Long, Janet Raymond and Georgia Mattern.

Event committee members were fully bedecked in red wigs, feather boas and other adornments. Mary Wyatt Allen, thusly costumed, introduced the queen, and the clinic's Gregg Rose, posing as Lance Romance, was a vision in a gold sequined jacket. Catherine McGarry led the committee, which included Sue Cooper-Street, Patsy Dunlap, Bonnie Hargrett, Ronnie Oard, Carol O'Bryon, Kathleen Peters, Virginia Rowell and Jane Egbert.

Another highlight of the evening was the food served at the reception afterward. Orange Blossom caterers prepared yummy sweet potato biscuits plus recipes from Browne's books. One astonishing appetizer, called "pig candy," involves only bacon and brown sugar.

Mary Jane Park can be reached at 727 893-8267; fax (727) 893-8675; e-mail park@sptimes.com P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.