by Andrew Turner
More than 200 of his friends gathered, Saturday, to make Doug Drown feel as uncomfortable as he possibly could.
He was moved to tears from the effort.
Drown was roasted as the Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce's annual Citizen of the Year in a ceremony held in Streeter Hall's dining hall.
Drown is the chamber's 28th recipient of the award since the first, the late Douglas Kitchel, received it in 1970.
Kitchel, who died this winter, was remembered at Saturday's event with a moment of silence before a host of speakers put the screws to the newest inductee.
Local radio personality Tom Field emceed the event, warming up the audience with his own recollections of Drown, who gave Field his first job in radio.
Field pointed out that Drown was so efficient and helpful that he not only did his regular on-air duties at the radio station, but would also mow the lawn there.
Field then joked that, to the Academy's surprise when he was first hired there, he showed up to mow the school's lawn and had to be reminded that the academy had people who did that.
For Drown, it went downhill from there.
Former WSTJ and WNKV coworker Donald Mullally Sr., for instance, reported to onlookers that "(Drown's) idea of a seven-course meal is a six pack and a hot dog," and that "If Moses had seen his face, there would have been another commandment."
His boss at St. Johnsbury Academy, Headmaster Bernier Mayo, even entered the fun, pointing out that he and Drown have often been misidentified.
"Doug and I have been and still are repeatedly mistaken for each other," Mayo began, adding that even his own children have made the mistake, coming up behind Drown and saying, "Dad?"
Mayo also said that, in a sense, it was hard for him to roast Drown because it was like roasting himself
In a more serious tone, though, Mayo gave his colleague high marks for his benevolent spirit and dedication.
"It's ironic that both of us have been named citizen of the year," he said. "Doug is much more deserving of this award than I was and you'd have to be blind to not see that."
He described Drown as a caring and giving person, illustrated by one trip to Florida they made together.
They were visiting an elderly woman who had recently given a substantial donation to the school and who had remarked in passing that she could no longer use her telephone because she couldn't distinguish the numbers.
Drown took it upon himself to send to the woman a new telephone with large numbers on it. He even made sure it was installed for her.
Fairbanks Museum's Charlie Browne joked that Howard Reed, one of Drown's classmates, said once that after hearing Drown do his first academy football play-by-play "it was apparent ... that Doug Drown had a great career ahead of him - in print journalism."
And later, Browne spoke of Drown as a man with the most infectious laugh in town, and whose leadership at the radio station created a sense of family among coworkers and those who visited.
"At a biological level, it is our genes that make us loyal to our family. I can only conclude that Doug Drown's genes must be all over town," Browne said. "Because loyalty above all else to the greater St. Johnsbury community and its people is what made Doug our citizen of the year."
Probably the most poignant moment was when his oldest son, Tim Drown, took to the podium and struggled over words about his father. As he began, and it was obvious he was having a hard time getting the words out, his father tossed his napkin on the podium, which sent the crowd into hysterics.
"His community involvement was part of his upbringing, starting with our grandmother, Thelma Drown," he began, shakily. "I know she is looking down as a proud parent."
In a lighter moment, Drown's son listed a sort-of top 10 list of the "fatherly advice" Drown handed on to his children as they were growing up in St. Johnsbury.
Tim Drown listed such gems as, "'Don't worry, it's only blood. This will hurt me more than it hurts you. Turn off the lights, do you think I'm made of money? We're not lost, I'm just not sure where we are,' and 'I'm not sleeping, I'm watching that channel."'
He ended his address with more serious words for the man of the evening. "On a serious note, our dad (has) always, always, no matter what, been there to support and encourage our individuality," he said.