CLEARWATER — For a man who doesn't seek out recognition, Russ Kimball won a huge award Thursday night.
Kimball, who has run the Sheraton Sand Key Resort since it opened in the mid 1970s, was named "Mr. Clearwater," the highest honor given by the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Among other reasons, he was recognized for his three decades of work in bringing European tourists to this area.
Like previous winners of the prestigious award — people like Jack Eckerd, Gus Stavros and Charles Rutenberg — Kimball was surprised to find himself donning the navy blue blazer of Mr. Clearwater. He was kept in the dark until the winner was announced at the chamber's annual banquet, held at the Clearwater Beach Hilton.
"I'm blown away to be added to the list along with Gus Stavros, Dr. Hale, Dan Carlisle and others," Kimball said. "I'm touched."
Kimball was nominated for the honor by Stavros, Dr. William Hale and Holly Duncan, all of whom previously won. In their nomination, they wrote:
"Russ is the quintessential role model, both professionally and personally. For decades, he has graciously and effectively been the unofficial leader of our tourism industry, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
"He never seeks recognition, prefers to remain in the background, ever humble. He treats everyone the same. He would be a grand choice for Mr. Clearwater — in fact, long overdue in our opinion."
The chamber has given a Mr. Clearwater/Mrs. Clearwater award annually since 1958 to recognize exceptional community service.
Kimball, the longtime general manager of the 375-room Sheraton resort, has been influential in promoting Clearwater to the European market as a tourist destination.
A few other facts about him:
• He was inducted into the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame last year, joining figures like Walt Disney and Henry Flagler.
• He's one of the longest-serving members of the Pinellas Tourist Development Council, which oversees spending of the county's lodging tax.
• He's one of 11 members of A Baseball Community, a group of civic leaders exploring options for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium.
• His resort donates countless dinners to Morton Plant Mease Clearwater for Youth and several other local nonprofit groups for their annual events.
Also at Thursday night's banquet, former Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst was named the chamber's "Tourism Person of the Year" for his work in bringing a successful powerboat race event to Clearwater Beach in October.
Aungst worked on the project with restaurateur Frank Chivas, who won the same award last year. Aungst was volunteer chairman of the Clearwater Super Boat Offshore National Championship, which drew tens of thousands of spectators to Clearwater Beach.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.