QUINCY -- Thomas A. Oakley was surprised Thursday when he became the first recipient of an award named in his honor.
Oakley, the publisher of The Herald-Whig who has announced he will retire Dec. 31, was presented with the first Thomas A. Oakley Award for Economic Innovation from the Great River Economic Development Foundation during a luncheon at Boodalu Steakhouse.
GREDF President Marcel Wagner Jr., said the award will be presented each year to recognize an individual or organization for outstanding achievements in business development. He said it was natural to name the award after Oakley because of his more than six decades working on behalf of Quincy and the tri-state region.
In fact, Wagner vividly recalled his first phone call with Oakley, which lasted about two hours.
"After that phone call I really understood that Quincy was fortunate to have a champion of economic development throughout the region," Wagner said. "Since then I've realized that ‘champion' does not do justice to the impact that each of us realize that Tom has had ... for our region."
Oakley told about 40 people attending the luncheon that each of them have played important roles in the successes that Quincy and the surrounding region have enjoyed.
"I'm thankful and proud of what we've been able to do and everybody here has helped change the face of this region," Oakley said.
Most notably, Oakley has been a tireless supporter for improving transportation and infrastructure in the Midwest. "It was important to get Quincy and our region on the map," he said, "because everybody said ‘you can't get there from here.' "
Three national corridors now serve the region and connect it to highway systems in the rest of the Midwest and to the continental United States. In addition, a large number of other highways have been upgraded in Western Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa.
Tom Boland, a Hannibal, Mo., businessman and former chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, sat next to Oakley at the awards luncheon and was credited with helping achieve those goals.
"In 1984 we had a list of 10 projects in Illinois and Missouri, and nine of the 10 are done," Oakley said to Boland.
Oakley, Boland and other regional leaders also helped establish the Tri-State Development Summit in 1996. The Summit promotes economic development in its many forms in 36 counties in West-Central Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa.
In addition to the GREDF award, Oakley was presented an honorary license plate emblazoned with OAKLEY from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. The framed and mounted license place includes a letter from White, crediting Oakley as a preeminent supporter of transportation issues in the state.
"I think Tom has dealt with 11 different governors and all kinds of politicians in order to work for significant highways in our area," said Mike McClain, a Quincy attorney and former state representative.