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MDCE 2011: A tribute to Phil Keeter

ORLANDO, Fla. — More than 150 people came out Tuesday night at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo to honor and roast Phil Keeter, who soon will be retiring as president of the Marine Retailers Association of America.

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Its first and only president, Keeter has not only led the group for more than 20 years, but also was one of its founders in 1972. He has served as president since 1988.

The night was filled with many jokes at Keeter’s expense: “I’m told that the first boat he was on had two of each animal on it,” National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich said, drawing hearty laughs from the crowd. But the deep affection and admiration the speakers and everyone in the room had for Keeter was evident as well.

“Phil has been one of my longest-standing friends in the industry,” Dammrich continued, noting that he met Keeter on a plane while flying to his first International Marine Trades Exhibition and Conference. Dammrich praised Keeter for his keen insights and understanding and a “desire to do the right thing for the industry.”

Laura Martin, president of the Martin Flory Group, dressed as comedian Phyllis Diller for her portion of the roast, jokingly giving Keeter an old MRAA bag filled with things he’ll need for retirement: vitamins, a magnifying glass and a visor.

“I wish you nothing but the best. You have been a total leader. …You have really walked the walk,” she said after clowning around for a few minutes. “You earned every wonderful moment you have coming to you.”

Incoming MRAA president Matt Gruhn played for the audience a video “interview” he did with Keeter while spending time with him to learn more about the role he’s about to undertake.

“Do you realize how difficult it is to soak up 50 years of knowledge in three days? … Turns out, it’s not that difficult,” he said, earning some of the night’s biggest laughs.

Gruhn ended by saying it was an honor to take the reins from Keeter and that his are “truly big shoes for me to follow.”

Longtime friend and colleague Larry Russo Sr., president and CEO of Russo Marine, told the audience the MRAA’s Hall of Fame award was being renamed the Phil Keeter Retailing Hall of Fame Award. Keeter was presented with a plaque as its first recipient.

Calling Keeter his “best friend in the business” Russo showed the audience old, sometimes slightly embarrassing photos of Keeter, but ended his speech by noting the “deep respect and regard” he had for Keeter’s 23 years of service.

When it was Keeter’s turn to speak he took his own jabs at the roasters, who also included MRAA administrative director Marge Eckenroad; Galey’s Marine president Don Galey; Lake Erie Marine Trades Association president emeritus Norm Schultz; and past MRAA chairman John Underwood. However, he got choked up when acknowledging those who came out to honor him.

“I’ve had a good ride because of all of you all,” he said. “I thank you very much.”

— Beth Rosenberg

b.rosenberg@tradeonlytoday.com

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