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Motherhood Lauded at Person of the Year Celebration

April 15, 2009 — Flanked by her two well-known children, head in her hands, Candia R. Petersen wept Wednesday as it became clear it was she who was being named Person of the Year, not Barbara or Bert.
Motherhood was the first clue as to the gender of this year's person as Elliott "Mac" Davis began his 18th annual cliff-hanger introduction leading to the disclosure of who would receive one of the community's most prestigious awards.
"This year's Person of the Year is many things to many people, but she is today and has been — ever since she gave birth that first time — above all else an extraordinary parent to her children," Davis told Rotarians and previous Persons of the Year gathered at Marriott Frenchman's Reef's Windows on the Harbor restaurant, where Rotary St. Thomas II holds its weekly luncheon meeting.
Davis went on to describe in general terms the type of person who typifies the Person of the Year.
"I would have a hard time finding a more humble, selfless person than this year's recipient," said Davis, a Rotarian and recipient of the coveted award, which has gone to governors, senators, philanthropists and publishers, among others. "In fact, I have never been more certain that there is a person in this room who is about to receive one of this community's most prestigious honors in recognition of — as it says on the plaque beneath the figurine I am about to present to them — 'their selfless dedication to the people of the Virgin Islands and the world' … and they haven't got a clue!"
It wasn't until Davis said the recipient hailed from Tortola that Petersen's face reflected first awareness and then astonishment, just before she buried it in her hands.
Davis went on to say Petersen had worked two jobs for a couple of decades to provide for her children after her marriage broke up.
She was employed by the Department of Social Welfare for 11 years and then at the Territorial Court as a judicial assistant for 12 more years. While holding down these full-time jobs, her second jobs included employment with Franklin's department store, Pineapple Beach Resort, Limetree Beach Resort and First Choice Boutique.
But the 70-year-old Petersen also found time for volunteer work along the way, and still does, Davis said. She was the former president of the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
"She is also likely the most energetic member of a group of medical missionaries known as the Dorcas Edwards Medical Missions," Davis said. "Her service with this group has taken her to Ghana in Africa, to South Africa, to Guyana in Central America and to numerous other Caribbean island nations."
Petersen also played granny nanny to her only grandchild, Ken Ryan Farrington, going as far as Illinois to do so.
After losing her first-born son, Dale, in an automobile accident the day before Thanksgiving 27 years ago, it was her grandson's presence that brought her back to celebrating the holiday again, Davis said.
Her daughter, Barbara Petersen, St. Thomas-Water Island administrator, said that when Ken was born and her marriage was falling apart, her mother sold her home on St. Thomas and moved to Illinois. She stayed there five years helping Barbara raise her son.
But there's a lot more, Barbara said in a brief phone interview.
"For me, it's huge," said Barbara, who also cried during Wednesday afternoon's presentation. "When Mac told me, because we had to find a way to get her to the luncheon, I cried. I know the sacrifices she has made for Bert and me, but also for the rest of our family."
Candia Petersen was the moving force behind the early days of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, Barabara said: "For my mother it's all about raising money for people in need."
Son Bert Petersen, who also wiped away tears Wednesday, is a nationally renowned and respected oncologist — one of New York Magazine's Top 100 doctors. He has been honored repeatedly for his volunteer work with various Caribbean nations.
"Those children — now adults — have, on account of [Candia's] selfless service, become leading citizens in our islands, with lives of great achievement and service to others … primarily because a humble, hard-working woman saw her impossible dream in them, and did what she needed to do in order to see that dream come true," Davis said.
The award — which is acknowledged with the presentation of a Lladro replica of Don Quixote — was conceived 29 years ago by St. Thomas Rotary II to honor men and women who have had a major impact on the islands.
After the meeting, in keeping with Davis' assessment, Candia Petersen said her most cherished accomplishment was "rearing my children."
Her second most important accomplishment?
"Making 70."
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