Tears of joy might follow Citizen of the Year winner Claudia Walker, straight to the podium 

  • GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 11/6/2019 4:58:10 PM
Modified: 11/6/2019 4:57:59 PM

Sometime last month, when Claudia Walker was told she had been named the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year, she had no words to express her feelings.

Only tears.

“I was literally speechless,” Walker said. “Yes, I am one of those emotional, crying-type of people, and that’s what I did when I found out.”

She was honored Wednesday night at the Grappone Conference Center, at the 100th edition of an event that has evolved into a familiar piece of Concord’s landscape. Walker was described as a “Concord businesswoman and civic leader” in the Chamber’s announcement of the award.

In it, retired Concord principal and former Concord School Board President Clint Cogswell summed up the core of Walker’s appeal. 

“Claudia is a citizen who has been actively and wholeheartedly involved in our community for 35 years,” Cogswell said. “She has taken on leadership roles, dived into active participation and done so with the sort of good-naturedness and enthusiasm which lifts everyone up and encourages them.”

Where to begin?

The Rock ’N Race – a 3.1-mile race through the city to raise money for Concord Hospital’s Payson Center for Cancer Care – is a good place to start.

Walker’s fingerprints are all over an event that, proportionate to Concord’s population, draws a higher percentage of runners than almost anywhere else in the country.

She jumped at the idea of staging a benefit race, first presented to her by local business giant Steve Duprey.

“I was not expecting it, but I thought it sounded interesting,” Walker said, referring to Duprey. “ I knew it was for a good cause, and I knew he could make things happen. We formed a committee, made a plan.”

It worked, and continues to work to this day. The race drew about 850 runners and raised $85,000 in 2003, its first year.

Fast forward and as many as 6,000 runners have shown up in recent years. The race has raised more than $5 million in its fight against cancer.

This loyalty and passion for planting roots here comes from a woman who grew up in Memphis, Tenn., and attended the University of Alabama, where she loved the football team, coached at the time by the legendary Bear Bryant.

She studied math, worked at IBM, and spent some time living in Maine and Portsmouth before settling in Concord in 1985. She’s worked in commercial real estate, and banking and commercial lending. She retired and went to work for her husband at his real estate company in Concord.

And she volunteered. Here, there and everywhere.

“What’s most impressive is that Claudia has the status and business acumen to do anything she chooses,” said Ellen Fries, the community relations director at the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, “and what she chooses is to do good in and for her community through her many years of service in so many fields, always for the betterment of all.”

The Rock ’N Race may be the most visible of Walker’s efforts because of the huge number of runners each year, but there’s a lot more to her local involvement.

She was on the steering committee to fight homelessness, and in fact solicited donations through the business tax credit program, helping to build the new Concord Coalition to End Homelessness Emergency Winter Shelter.

She served on the Concord Hospital Board of Trustees for 12 years, prompting Pam Puleo, the chief advancement officer at the Hospital, to say in the Chamber release, “She has represented our organization with excellence. Her efforts directly affected thousands of people with cancer through access to needed support programs and services.”

Also, Walker was a board member for Concord Community Music School, the Concord Business Group and the Home Builders Association.

She was even asked to contribute her own recipe to the Souperfest – an annual event at Rundlett Middle School, created by the late Jim Kinhan and once held at the South Congregational Church – to raise money for various causes, including the city’s homeless problem.

Walker made Mediterranean vegetable soup, and, in a brief departure from her modest ways, told me it was “delicious.”

“It’s not just that ridiculously long list of activities and honors she has racked up that make her so remarkable and so worthy,” local attorney David Fries said. “It’s her unrelenting energy and commitment to these roles. She leads by example, grace and encouragement, always ready to give everyone else the credit.”

Over the years, Walker has already won the Chamber’s Business Leader of the Year Pinnacle Award and the Capital Regional Developmental Council’s Commercial Real Estate Lender of the Year Award.

And now this.

The Citizen of the Year Award follows a recently-revised format that reveals the winner ahead of time, rather than waiting for the tense, Oscar-like announcement on the day of the banquet itself.

This allows Chamber President Tim Sink to avoid telling the little white lies he used to in the past to convince the winners to attend without revealing that they’d won.

Walker found out weeks ago, leaving her with tears, not words.

“That’s just the way I am,” she said.

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