BANGOR, Maine — A couple who have given generously to area medical, educational and youth causes — including a $2 million pledge to a cancer treatment center — received the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s most prestigious award Wednesday night during the organization’s annual awards dinner.
Danny and Carla Lafayette of Hampden received the Norbert X. Dowd Award in recognition of their contributions to Greater Bangor’s economy and quality of life during a sell-out event at the Bangor Civic Center. Chamber officials said Wednesday that the annual dinner audience of about 750 people was the largest in the Chamber’s 99-year history.
For nearly three decades, the Lafayettes have been among the region’s most successful entrepreneurs.
As leaders in the hospitality business, the Lafayettes built an impressive chain of 27 hotels in Maine and beyond. Their Maine holdings include the Best Western Black Bear Inn & Conference Center in Orono, the Bar Harbor Hotel and Bluenose Inn in Bar Harbor, the Best Western Senator Inn and Spa in Augusta, and the Holi-day Inn by the Bay in Portland.
Though the couple quietly had been sharing the proceeds of their hotels with the community for years, the $2 million pledge they made to the Champion for the Cure campaign for the new cancer center last August created a stir throughout northern and eastern Maine. In recognition of the pledge, the new facility was named the Lafayette Family Cancer Center. The state-of-the-art center adjacent to the Cianchette Building in Brewer opened last month.
The new center replaced the former Cancer Care of Maine facility, which had outgrown its former space at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
Fundraising continues for cancer research, however, with more information available online at www.championthecure.org.
In accepting the Chamber award, the couple said they were motivated to act because their own family has been touched by cancer. One of their sons, Ramsey, now 23, was diagnosed with cancer at age 18 and has beaten the disease, they said during Wednesday’s ceremony. They said they believe a cure will be found, and the an-swer lies in research.
“Danny and I and our family are very fortunate in that our son Ramsey has now been cancer-free for five years,” Carla Lafayette said upon receiving the award.
“Half of the people who receive the same diagnosis that he did — stage three melanoma — no longer are alive today. That sobering statistic needs to change, and the key is research,” she said.
“I envision a day when we share a characteristic with the naked mole rat,” which she said has been found never to develop cancer. “I know that human beings are smart enough to figure out the causes of and cures for cancer. If the naked mole rat can get it right, we can. Research is the key. The more scientists that we have tack-ling the problem, the sooner solutions will be found.”
During his turn at the microphone, Danny Lafayette shared ideas for making the region a better place in which to live and work — chief among them a state-sponsored medical school. He envisioned the school as a joint venture of the University of Maine and the University of New England.
“About 70 percent of doctors practice within 100 miles of where they attend medical school,” he said, adding that 44 states have state-sponsored or private medical schools, 34 states have dental schools, 47 have at least one pharmacy school and 29 states have all three. He applauded Husson University’s recent addition of a pharmacy program.
“It’s obvious that it’s a good investment, and I have no idea why we don’t have [a medical school] at the University of Maine. We should bond it just like we do a road.”
Other award recipients honored Wednesday night were:
— Bangor Savings Bank, Business of the Year.
— Eastern Maine Medical Center, Not-for-profit of the Year.
— U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Catherine K. Lebowitz Public Service Award.
— John I. Simpson, Bangor, Arthur Comstock Professional Service Award.
— Hilda Hutchins McCollum, Bangor, Community Service Award.
— Mark Wellman and Tori Britton, Entrepreneurship Award.
— State Rep. Emily Cain, Orono, Fusion’s FLAVA Award.
— Jerry Whalen, Hampden, Volunteer of the Year.
More information is available in the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s annual report inserted in today’s newspaper.