It could have been called Merrimack Valley Pride Night.
Gov. Charlie Baker, keynote speaker at the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner last week at DiBurro’s Function Hall in Bradford, said he is impressed with the way people in the region help each other.
Baker saw this firsthand in September 2018, when fires and explosions caused by over-pressurized gas lines left many residents of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover out in the cold. The governor practically moved to the Merrimack Valley in the days after the disaster as he took charge of the relief effort.
Referring to the recent publication of MCAS results, Baker said, “Lawrence had some good test scores.” He credited the state’s Education Reform Act, passed in 1993, with putting Massachusetts schools on a path to better performance.
The act was signed into law by then-Gov. William Weld, in whose administration Baker served first as secretary of health and human services, then as secretary of administration and finance.
While Baker is pleased with Massachusetts’ schools, he said more needs to be done in another area: housing. The state needs to build more homes that young people can afford, he said.
The governor posed for photos with several business leaders who were honored by the chamber at the event Wednesday night of last week. Antonio Lopez Jr. was this year’s recipient of the Ralph B. Wilkinson Good Citizenship Award. Lopez, a partner with the certified public accounting firm of Lopez, Chaff & Wiesman Associates Inc. of Lawrence, received a standing ovation from the several hundred people who attended the dinner.
Lopez said he did not know why he was chosen for the award, but Northern Essex Community College Lane Glenn provided an explanation to The Eagle-Tribune.
“He’s involved in everything,” Glenn said. “He’s all over the place.”
Among other contributions, Lopez set up the Lawrence Partnership as a nonprofit organization – free of charge, according to Glenn. The organization’s key purpose is to provide job opportunities. Lopez was accompanied by his wife Maureen and their daughter Cynthia. Their son Tony was away on business.
Trudy Lawler, president of the A.P. Michaud Insurance Agency of Methuen, was honored with the Community Spirit Award.
“I am humbled,” she said. The business was started by her father, Armand Michaud, 40 years ago. The agency offers insurance for motor vehicles, homes and businesses.
A.P. Michaud Insurance helps the community by participating in diaper drives for families in need and also raises money for the Nevins Library in Methuen.
Patrick Driscoll, who opened the Driscoll Funeral Home on South Main Street in Haverhill in 2011, was recognized as an Emerging Leader. When he was just 30, Driscoll purchased a single-family house and renovated it into a funeral home.
Driscoll is active in the Haverhill Exchange Club and serves on the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Haverhill. He said he believes in “giving back to the community.”
The chamber also honored a nonprofit entity, Ironstone Farm of Andover, which helps people with physical and mental challenges heal through horseback riding.
“The Merrimack Valley is very generous,” said DeeDee O’Brien, executive director of Ironstone.