Each year, The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama honors civic leaders and trailblazers that have made an impact on the quality, livability and economic progress of our community. The Civic Hall of Fame was born during The Chamber’s 100th anniversary year in 2000 and is designed to honor exceptional citizens who have made significant, long-term contributions to the overall development of Tuscaloosa County.
Organizations, businesses and individual citizens submitted nominations for the 2022 class. These were reviewed by a committee and honorees were selected.
Honorees will be inducted into the Civic Hall of Fame on Oct. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Tuscaloosa River Market.
The 2022 Tuscaloosa County Civic Hall of Fame honorees are:
Camille Wright Cook
Tuscaloosa native Camille Wright Cook, the daughter of Judge Reuben H. Wright and Camille Searcy Wright, earned her B.A. and J.D. degrees from The University of Alabama and went on to become a leader in legal education and community service. A strong believer that "town and gown" should work together, she considered it a privilege to serve in both areas.
Cook began her career at Auburn University as a professor of business law before returning to her alma mater in 1968. She was the first woman to become a tenured professor in the University of Alabama School of Law and the first woman to receive an endowed professorship at the University. In addition, she served as Associate Dean of UA Law School and as University of Alabama Assistant Academic Vice President.
During her ten years as Director of Continuing Legal Education, Cook was instrumental in the adoption of a mandatory continuing legal education requirement for Alabama attorneys. She served two terms on the Smithsonian Council in Washington, D.C., and remains a Life Fellow of the American Law Institute. Additionally, she served as a Trustee of the Farrah Law Society at UA Law School. Cook was named Pillar of the Bar by the Tuscaloosa County Bar Association.
She has also been honored at The University of Alabama as one of the Top 31 Alumnae and has received the Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award, Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award and Bench and Bar Outstanding Alumnus Award. The lasting respect of her colleagues and students is a tribute to Cook's stature in the field of legal education.
Cook's community involvement began during her professional career and continued after her retirement from UA Law School. She served on numerous boards and volunteered her time and talents with a variety of organizations. The Tuscaloosa Children's Center, Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society, Tuscaloosa County Chapter of the American Red Cross, Hospice of West Alabama and Caring Days all benefited from her service. She also served on the vestry of Christ Episcopal Church, the board of AmSouth Bank and the University Club Board of Governors. When Cook added volunteering at the DCH Cancer Treatment Center to her long list of activities, she is remembered for saying, "I just thought I needed to help."
Cook is also remembered for saying "My life's greatest achievement is my wonderful family." She is the mother of Sydney Cook, Reuben Cook, and Cade Cook of Tuscaloosa, and Camille Ashley of Montgomery, and the grandmother of six.
Travis Gary Fitts
Travis Gary Fitts was born in Tuscaloosa, AL, on November 21, 1933 to James Harris Fitts, Jr. and Ruth Watts Fitts and died on May 28, 2022.
Fitts was a fourth generation owner and retired President of Fitts Agency, Inc, a long time Tuscaloosa insurance agency which traces its beginning back to 1875.
A true gentleman in every sense, he placed the welfare of others ahead of his own. He was a leader in every facet of his life and the citizens of Tuscaloosa were the beneficiaries of his time and generosity.
Fitts attended and graduated from the Darlington School for Boys in Rome, GA and then entered Vanderbilt University where he obtained a B.S. degree. Upon graduation, he was commissioned 2nd Lt. USMC and attended flight school in Pensacola, FL, beginning his over 30-year career as a naval aviator in the Marine Corps reserves. Upon completing his active-duty obligations in 1959, Fitts and his wife Beji returned to Tuscaloosa to join his father, Jim Fitts Jr, in the family business, Fitts Agency, Inc. Under Fitts's leadership over the next five decades, the agency flourished and upon his retirement in 2009, it was one of the largest independent insurance agencies in West Alabama.
He believed in giving back to his community and served in leadership positions in many civic organizations to include: Chairman, Black Warrior Council-Boy Scouts of America; Friends of Scouting Campaign, Boy Scouts of America-Black Warrior Council Executive Committee Member; Charter Member, Presidents Club-Tuscaloosa YMCA; Board Member, Tuscaloosa Academy; United Way Campaign Chairman; American Red Cross Board Member; Board Member and President, Tuscaloosa Rotary Club; Board Member and Chairman, Tuscaloosa Salvation Army; West Alabama Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year; Chairman, Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority Board; 2011 Community Foundation of West Alabama Pillars of the Community. Fitts and his brother, Jim Fitts, were instrumental in helping to develop the riverfront in Tuscaloosa.
He served the state of Alabama as a USS Alabama Battleship Commissioner, taking on the 3-year term as Chairman in his early eighties. In 2019, Parker Towing Co. honored their long-term relationship with Fitts by re-naming a towboat after him - the mv T. Gary Fitts.
Likewise, he supported his chosen profession by serving in leadership roles on a state and national level throughout his career to include: Board Member and Past President, Alabama Independent Insurance Agents Association and was honored as Alabama Independent Insurer of the Year; State National Director, Independent Agents of America; Chairman, National Errors & Omissions Control Committee; Member, National Legislative Affairs Committee; member, USF&G National Agents Council; Member, Hartford Regional Agents Council; Member, Jonathan Trumbull Association and Hartford National Advisory Council.
Fitts believed in conservation, was an avid outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish. He was a craftsman of every trade. He played tennis throughout his life with his many friends at Indian Hills Country Club, North River Yacht Club and Tuscaloosa Country Club. He was a faithful member of Christ Episcopal Church and particularly enjoyed his service to the Lazarus Ministry.
Fitts and his wife of over 60 years, Beji, raised their three sons in Tuscaloosa, Travis, David and Forrest, two of whom followed him into the insurance agency business. They have six grandchildren.
Dr. Samory T. Pruitt
Dr. Samory T. Pruitt has served as Vice President for Community Affairs since the Division’s creation in 2004. In this post, he is responsible for developing and managing the University’s public outreach programs and providing campus leadership to enhance the quality of life both within and beyond the campus community. This is achieved through the formation of partnerships for engagement scholarship across the areas of teaching, research, and service, which seek to generate and preserve knowledge for the mutual benefit of the University and its community partners. Additionally, Dr. Pruitt provides civic engagement leadership, developing civic learning opportunities to sustain more effective community problem-solving strategies and democratic engagement on campus and in the community.
Since 1986 he has worked for the University in increasingly responsible positions in management and administration, including roles in the divisions of Financial Affairs and University Advancement, as well as in the President’s Office, prior to being named to his current position. Under his leadership, the Division has grown to include the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, which houses a variety of community education and health-related programs geared toward building partnerships and capacity that lift traditionally underserved populations in life-changing ways. Additionally, the Division’s Crossroads Civic Engagement Center seeks to develop the civic capacity of the University’s students and community partners in ways that foster a thriving democratic society at The University of Alabama and beyond.
Dr. Pruitt is actively involved in the West Alabama area, where he has served on the Board of Directors for The First Tee of Tuscaloosa; the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce; the Tuscaloosa Library Board; Big Brothers, Big Sisters; the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama Education Policy Council; the Board of Directors of the Literacy Council of West Alabama; the Black Belt Community Foundation Board; the Board of Directors of Success by Six; the Paul R. Jones Art Collection Advisory Board and the Board of Directors of Youth Emergency Services. He is the founding sponsor of the 100 Black Men of Tuscaloosa chapter.
He is a member of the Tuscaloosa International Rotary Club, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and is a 1995 graduate of Leadership Tuscaloosa. He chairs the Martin Luther King Jr. Realizing the Dream Initiative committee and serves on the leadership team of the annual UA United Way Campaign.
In 2008, he was appointed by the governor of Alabama to serve as Education Chair for the West Alabama Regional Action Commission, which covers six Alabama counties. In 2002 the University presented him with the Award for Outstanding Commitment to Public Service.
In 2016, he received the E. Roger Sayers Distinguished Service Award — given to a faculty or staff member who has gone above and beyond their normal duties and performed in an exceptional manner in order to further the mission of UA.
Dr. Pruitt serves as Immediate Past President of the Board of Directors of the Engagement Scholarship Consortium (ESC), consisting of institutions located in the United States, Canada, and Nigeria, and in fall 2019 was named to the Commission on Economic and Community Engagement Executive Committee of the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities (APLU). He currently serves on the Stillman College Board of Trustees and on the Board of the Academy of Community-Engaged Scholars (ACES). Additionally, he is the publisher of the international Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship.
Dr. Pruitt earned his BA in mathematics, his MA in public administration and his PhD in higher education administration, all from The University of Alabama.
George Samuel "Sammy" Watson recently retired after 26 years as Director of Community Relations for DCH Health System, one of the state's leading health systems. In addition, he has always been one of this community's most respected civic leaders, working to make Tuscaloosa a better home for all of us.
Watson has been a positive force in civic and charitable activities throughout Tuscaloosa for many years. Elected three times to the Tuscaloosa City Council and serving as Council President from 1993 to 1995, he was a part of Tuscaloosa’s first city council, which took office in 1985.
Watson has served on the boards of the Tuscaloosa Public Library, United Way, Caring Days and the Chamber of Commerce, among others.
He has chaired the Easter Seals Board, The University of Alabama President's Community Advisory Board, the Tuscaloosa Convention and Visitor's Bureau Board, the Youth Emergency Services Board, and the Tuscaloosa Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy Board. Watson currently serves as Vice President of the Shelton State Community College Foundation Board, and is a member of the Easter Seals Board, Black Warrior Council-Boy Scouts of America Board, Police Athletic League Board, Presbyterian Apartments Board and the Red Oak Credit Union Board. He is a member and past president of the Rotary Club of Tuscaloosa and is active in the Chamber of Commerce.
Watson is a native of Tuscaloosa and, before becoming Director of Community Relations for DCH Health System in 1996, worked for more than 25 years in the radio industry - he still works part-time at the popular 92.1 The Possum station. He served in the Alabama National Guard for eight years and was elected an elder in his church. Watson has been a facilitator in helping to establish the many partnerships between the University of Alabama and DCH. He was recently honored by UA with an Excellence Award for being a Distinguished Community-Engaged Scholar Community Partner.
Watson is married to Debbie L. Watson of Tuscaloosa.
Ernest G. Williams
When Ernest Going Williams was selected to receive The University of Alabama's Distinguished Alumni Award, The Tuscaloosa News, in a congratulatory editorial, said Williams "joins the ranks of UA legends... "
Williams was born in Macon, Mississippi, on September 24, 1915, the son of Augustus Gaines and Mary Sanford Williams. He was named for his step-grandfather, Alfred Ernest Going, Jr. The family moved to Tuscaloosa when he was five.
Williams attended school in Tuscaloosa and graduated in 1938 from The University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Science degree in commerce and business administration. As a student, he was a member of the Excelsior and Philomathic literary societies, the Cotillion Club, Quadrangle, Jasons, and Omicron Delta Kappa.
In 1942 Williams enlisted in the Navy. He served as communications and deck officer aboard the U.S.S. Kaskaskia, a fleet oiler and as a communications officer aboard the U.S.S. Severn in the South Pacific. After three years of active duty, he was released at the end of the war and returned to Tuscaloosa and a position as assistant treasurer at the University. He soon was elected treasurer and established a reputation for fairness and openness, as well as for shrewdness in financial matters.
In 1951 he married Cecil Butler of Jacksonville, Florida, who he met while she was visiting her sister in Tuscaloosa. He was becoming active in the community, as president of the University Club, the Junior Chamber of Commerce, and the Exchange Club.
Later that year, Williams left the University and joined First National Bank of Tuscaloosa as a vice president and member of the board. But the University recognized the importance of having Williams close at hand and in August 1956, he was elected to the Board of Trustees and became the school's third local trustee.
In 1958 Williams resigned his position at the bank and became vice president for finance and treasurer at Gulf States Paper and a member of its board of directors.
In 1977, Williams left the Gulf States and organized Affiliated Paper Companies, where he became chairman and chief executive officer.
Williams' tenure as a trustee of The University of Alabama spanned 30 years, 26 of which were on the executive committee. His service ended in 1986 at age 70.
A highlight of his service to the University came in 1957 when he chaired a selection committee to search for a new football coach. Paul W. Bryant was high on the list and Williams, along with Dr. Frank Rose, Fred Sington, and Marc Ray Clement persuaded Bryant to return to the Capstone.
Williams has been honored as Tuscaloosa's Outstanding Citizen in 1973; by the University's Board of Trustees with a dinner and resolution of appreciation on his retirement; as the recipient of an honorary LLD. degree from the University in 1987; and by induction into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 1987.
Williams was an elder at First Presbyterian Church of Tuscaloosa, a chairman of the Tuscaloosa County American Red Cross and past president of Associated Industries of Alabama, West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, DCH Foundation, Exchange Club, Jaycees, United Way, the University Club and YMCA. He was also a member of the Newcom en Society of North America and was listed in Who's Who in America.
Throughout his career, his wife, Cecil, has been at his side. They had made significant gifts to The University of Alabama, including the Cecil B. and Ernest G. Williams Faculty Enhancement Fund. They had three children, Ernest Sanford, Turner Butler, and Elizabeth Cecil (Cece), nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
The 2022 Civic Hall of Fame ceremony is presented by The University of Alabama.
Gold Sponsors Award Company of America, McAbee Construction, Inc.; Silver Sponsors, Hudson Poole Fine Jewelers; Reception Sponsor, Amore Catering