A HOST of this year's "Richardson Dilworth Award" ceremony likened the event to the Academy Awards.
By that measure, the city's version was far more entertaining and a lot less boring. The hour-long awards presentation, held at City Hall on Friday, was chock full of genuine laughs, tears, surprises - and even a little love story. And when each nominee learned they had won, their reaction wasn't all, "Blah, blah, blah . . . I'd like to thank the Academy." The acceptance was pure Philly:
"Get outta here!?," awardee Barbara McCabe blurted out when Mayor Nutter told her she had won the 2015 "Richardson Dilworth Award for Distinguished Public Service."
"So classic Philadelphia," Nutter said, as the crowd cracked up. "I spent the next five minutes trying to convince her that she won."
Nutter explained that his staff, as is tradition with the prestigious civic award, played a little trick on McCabe, telling her that she had to meet with Mayor Nutter and brief him on volunteer services within the city's entire Parks and Recreation Department, where she works as director of stewardship. Her boss, Deputy Mayor Michael DiBerardinis, was supposed to do it, but suddenly couldn't make it, or so the ruse went, Nutter recounted.
"So Barbara comes over and we're sitting there talking," Nutter said, recalling how McCabe was all business and even apologetic for being somewhat unprepared. Then, Nutter sprung the news on her, he said.
The award, co-sponsored by the law firm Dilworth Paxson and Independence Blue Cross, is named for former Mayor Richardson Dilworth and honors a city employee who goes above and beyond the call of duty to help citizens and make Philadelphia a better place to live.
McCabe, 53, grew up in Port Richmond and has worked for Parks and Rec since age 14, when she snagged her first summer job. She has dedicated the last 29 years to cleaning up and maintaining the city's parks.
In thanking her family, McCabe evoked tears from those in the audience. "I love my work but the most important people in my life are my family . . . My Dad, I lost my Dad in 2001, but he had a huge influence on me . . . He gave me many things including a love of Philadelphia, of music, of art and travel, but he also gave me my love of nature. We shared many outdoor adventures together and I know he would have been proud of me today."
McCabe then turned to her mother, Barbara McGuigan, 75, seated in the front row with a bouquet of yellow flowers on her lap. "My Mom who I am so happy is here with me today, has also been a very big influence on my life," McCabe said. "We had a happy family growing up. She is a loving Mom who stayed home to raise her three children until we got a little older . . . My Mom gave me my work ethic, my drive and also my tenacity . . . She taught me to be responsible, dependable and she has a lot to do with who I am . . . I love you Mom, thank you for always being there."
With that, attendees wiped tears from their eyes. McCabe noted that she met her husband, Michael Mecchella, 55, also seated in the front row, while working within Parks and Recreation. They knew each other for two decades and then began to fall in love in 2008, marrying in 2010. "He is my true partner in every way and I love him more than anyone," she said.
This year, Nutter added two new categories to the Richardson Dilworth Awards - "Innovation in Government" and "Excellence in Customer Service."
And the winners are: Detective Joseph Murray of the Philadelphia Police Department for the "2015 Innovation in Government Award." Murray, 35, was among the first, if not the first, officers to seize upon social media, specifically Twitter, to harness public awareness and support.
"This individual works directly with Philadelphians to provide real-time crime information through Twitter and that practice has helped to close investigations and improve relationships between police and communities that they serve," Nutter said. "He then went on to help the Police Department implement a successful social media policy. Philly PD has more than 95, 000 likes on Facebook and more than 57,000 followers on Twitter. He truly is a pioneer in his work."
Murray, of Southwest Detectives, arrived at the podium with cellphone in hand, apparently taking a break from Tweeting. "I'll keep this to 140 characters," he quipped.
Murray thanked his bosses, particularly Lt. Johnny Walker, who stood by him when higher-ups wondered "what is this guy doing."
Nutter said he called up Murray under the guise that he needed help with his Twitter skills, when the real purpose was to tell Murray he had won. "I said, 'You know, Detective, the main purpose of my call is, I notice that you have a very large Twitter following and I'm trying to figure out how to increase mine.'"
"The 2015 Award for Excellence in Customer Service" went to 53-year-old Ann Hornbach, library supervisor at the Torresdale Neighborhood Library Branch.
"I am truly humbled and honored to receive this award," said Hornbach, who was described as a compassionate and energized public servant by Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
When she heard Mayor Nutter was on the phone, Hornbach said her first thought was, "Oh my God, what did I do?"