Two titans of East Tennessee’s business community were honored Friday with the Muddy Boot Award, given by the East Tennessee Economic Council in an ongoing tribute to individuals who through their work and activities build a better community.
This year’s honorees were Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and leader of other state and local organizations, and David Coffey, a serial entrepreneur, past member of the Tennessee General Assembly, and a leader in promoting better education in the state.
ETEC also presented two Postma Young Professional Medals. Betsy Prine, a vice president of Gilmartin Engineering Services, and Cortney Piper, principal of Piper Communications, received the medals. The Economic Council’s annual celebratory event was keynoted by Tennessee Commissioner of Finance and Administration Larry Martin. University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro and Pete Craven also participated, with the event chaired by Bonnie Carroll of Information International Associates.
“The Muddy Boot Award is given to people who get things done, and this year’s winners clearly have gone above and beyond to make this region prosper,” ETEC President Jim Campbell said. “It’s been a pleasure working with these two gentlemen over the past decades.”
Mason has been director of ORNL since 2007. He joined the laboratory in 1998 as director of research facilities. Notably, he led the effort to build the Spallation Neutron Source, the first new major science facility built at ORNL since the 1980s. The SNS and its partner in science, the High Flux Isotope Reactor, have made Oak Ridge the go-to place for neutron science in the world.
Mason’s impacts have been felt beyond ORNL. He has been a champion of education both at the local and state level, serving for more than 10 years as chair of the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation. He is chair of Innovation Valley, the regional industrial development marketing organization, and often is called upon in the recruitment of new industry to the Oak Ridge/Knoxville area.
Coffey (like Mason, a physicist) started his career at Oak Ridge Associated Universities and ORNL but left to explore the business world in the 1960s. He started and sold several radiation detection equipment companies, mentored others who would do the same, and by misfortune ended up as the principal in an insurance firm started by his son, who was killed in an airplane accident. He described that company and indeed his own career in a recent trade association article:
“I am not convinced that it easily fits in with other companies; it has a little different strategy,” Coffey said. “I’ve told (my CEOs)…just decide who you are and get on with it.”
Coffey served in the Tennessee General Assembly for almost a decade and remains active with the state Republican Party.
Accountability in education has been his biggest ongoing crusade, and he remains a champion of improving the state’s public school systems.
The Muddy Boot Award was created in the 1970s to honor individuals who have gone above the call of duty—like those who served the nation during the Manhattan Project—to make the community, the state of Tennessee and the nation a better place to live and work. Over 70 people have received the award. A full list of recipients and more information about the award can be found on the ETEC website at www.eteconline.org.