Chamber event lauds Conaway, honorees

With hopes that the worst of COVID-19 is behind us, Odessa Chamber of Commerce leaders expressed optimism on Thursday that efforts to revitalize downtown, and the city’s overall economic fortunes will rebound stronger than ever during the year ahead.

That was the message shared during the chamber’s annual meeting luncheon and awards banquet held Thursday at the Odessa Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.

“Overall, we have so much to celebrate,” chamber board Chairwoman Stacey Brown told the more than 400 community members who attended the event. “We have a lot to look forward to. Our jobs are coming back; the oil fields are coming back.”

But the road back includes many challenges, Brown said, including the need for health care officials to continue to stay on top of COVID and make sure the community is prepared for any future pandemic.

The chamber, and city, county and business leaders must continue to collaborate to revitalize downtown, provide support for education efforts and continue to develop new leaders, Brown added.

Thursday’s event was an opportunity to recognize community leaders who have contributed to Odessa’s success, chamber President/CEO Renee Earls said.

Those being honored this year included “Entrepreneur of the Year,” Mike Withrow, Basin Abstract & Title.

An Austin native, Withrow played professional baseball with the Chicago White Sox for three years. In 1984, following his professional baseball career, he entered the title insurance industry and worked in Austin, San Marcos and eventually in Odessa.

In 2005, Withrow opened Basin Abstract & Title, a title insurance company that serves residential and commercial buyers throughout Ector County.

The chamber inducted several local business owners into the organization’s Business Hall of Fame including Phil Fourche, Rexco; Roy Gillean, Barn Door Steakhouse & South Forty Catering; Rodney Hurt, Rodney Hurt Insurance Services and Ron Kirby, Ron Kirby, CPA.

The event also featured a special tribute to former Congressman Mike Conaway who retired earlier last year after serving 16 years in office serving Texas’ 11th congressional district, which includes Odessa, Midland and San Angelo.

A native of Texas, Conaway grew up in Odessa and graduated from Permian High School in 1966 after playing on the school’s first state championship football team.

He earned a bachelor of business administration degree in accounting from Texas A&M University-Commerce in 1970. After serving in the Army at Fort Hood, he returned to the Permian Basin with Price Waterhouse and settled in Midland, later working with George W. Bush as the chief financial officer for Bush Exploration.

It was also shared that Conaway’s first job was as a paperboy for the Odessa American and he and his horse, Sky Chief Poco, were on the team that won the 1997 Odessa Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo Team Penning Event.

A noticeably moved Conaway, who was honored with a plaque, said little after the presentation.

“Thank you,” Conaway said, after briefly expressing gratitude to his constituents for allowing him to serve and represent them.

Daniel Hollman, the chamber’s former board chairman, explained that last year’s chamber luncheon and awards banquet were cancelled due to COVID-19.

“(The year) 2020 was a wild ride for us, but it’s behind us and we’re ready to celebrate us again.”