It takes a village to keep a secret.
For two months, that’s exactly what the Warwick community did while WTBQ station manager Taylor Sterling and Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton made plans to honor long-time resident and reporter Roger Gavan at a surprise celebration.
On Thursday night, Jan. 16, close to 125 people came to Warwick Town Hall to honor Gavan for his nearly 30 years of service chronicling the town’s events through his photographs and articles in The Warwick Advertiser.
The only person in attendance who didn’t know the celebration was intended for him was Gavan. He thought he was there to cover a presentation for town historian Dr. Richard Hull.
So, as Sweeton stood next to Hull at the podium and spoke fondly of all the contributions “this great man” had given Warwick over the years, Gavan started taking photos, just as he’s done for the thousands of events he’s covered for the newspaper since 1992. He was completely oblivious to the fact that the crowd was filled with people there to honor him — his family members, friends and neighbors, as well as town merchants, representatives from nonprofit groups, members of the police and fire departments and local politicians.
For almost two minutes, Sweeton kept a straight poker face as he pretended that the honorary event was all about thanking Dr. Hull. Finally, he announced that it was his great pleasure to present the award he held in his hands to Roger Gavan.
Everyone in the audience stood up and cheered.
Gavan looked shocked as he stood up and looked around the room, finally realizing that this event was all about him. He struggled to put his camera down on the reporter’s table and walked to the podium. Gavan’s son-in-law, Joe Ebler, picked up the camera and began recording the event.
“If I had known this was happening, I would have stayed home,” Gavan said with a laugh while accepting his Community Service Award from Sweeton.
“I’m just kicking myself that I didn’t think of it myself,” Sweeton said, after thanking Sterling for organizing the event and for bringing the community together to thank Gavan for his outstanding service to the town.
Several local dignitaries presented Gavan with awards and citations, including Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard and Orange County Legislators Paul Ruszkiewicz and Barry Cheney. Everyone showed their appreciation when Assemblyman Karl Brabenec mentioned that Gavan was not only a great photojournalist, but also a veteran of the United States Air Force.
There was also a special moment when veteran songwriter and performer Carl Corcoran sang two songs for Gavan and his wife, Terry Gavan. Corcoran, who had returned to his native homeland after living and performing in Warwick for 10 years, was not physically in the room; Sterling had made arrangements for the former WTBQ host to attend via a live phone call.
Asked if he wanted to make a speech after receiving all this attention, Gavan simply thanked everyone and said with his trademark chuckle, “I write. I don’t speak.”
Everyone laughed, all knowing that his written words and photos speak volumes enough for the Warwick community.