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Unabashed library lover gets first time award

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image Jim Duffy with the "Outstanding Library Friend" award. Melody Jameson Photo

Jim Duffy attributes his success to a library.

By MELODY JAMESON

SUN CITY CENTER – Jim Duffy, a kid from a rough New York neighborhood who became an executive with one of America’s foremost corporations, attributes his success to a library.

In fact, he says, he’s always been enthralled by the leavening effect of an institution where diversity is embraced and encouraged.

This week, the institution he so supports and admires returned the compliment.

On Monday evening, before assembled library enthusiasts, many of them members of the 17 Friends of the Library organizations across Hillsborough County, Duffy received the “Outstanding Library Friend Award.” He is the first in the history of Hillsborough’s library system to be accorded the honor.

Presentation of the engraved see-through tower in a polished wood base took place in the John Germany Library auditorium, Tampa, with Mike Merrill, Hillsborough’s county manager, presiding after fellow library supporters had munched through a long buffet of tasty finger foods and assorted fresh salads.

Merrill’s remarks centered on “Roles of Libraries in Building Communities.” Duffy’s acceptance focused on building something great on what first is a good foundation.

Duffy was one of six nominees for the award and the “competition was very, very, very keen,” said Dr. William Scheuerle, nominations committee chairman. Proposed for the award by directors of the SouthShore Regional Library’s Friends board , Duffy emerged the committee’s top choice based on his long dedication to the library system and to bringing the South County’s regional facility to fruition, Scheuerle added. The SouthShore board referred to his “ever ongoing diligence” and
unrelenting support” in the nomination.

After retiring as a manufacturing executive at IBM, overseeing the work of as many as 300 engineers, developing long-range business plans involving the company’s products, Duffy and his wife, Joann, settled in Tampa. Not yet rocking chair-ready, he jumped into the chemicals manufacturing business. But it was a short-lived endeavor. Looking back today, he allows it was not a good fit; he’d lost his enthusiasm.

However, after he and Joann bought an airy pool home in Sun City Center, an old interest re-surfaced.

Duffy grew up in Binghamton, New York; “ in a not too great neighborhood,” he recalls.”But there was a library; a kind of creaky old place, but there were books and I could go there…read…imagine.” Eventually, the kid who found refuge in the library would leave the neighborhood. “ I was the first to get a college education,” he notes.

So, when the SouthShore Regional was nothing but a gleam of anticipation in a few local eyes, Duffy was an early convert. “We met for nine months at the Ruskin Library,” he says with a chuckle, trying to give birth to a new kind of library; a library that would be an integral part, the heart of the community. “It was an unheard of concept at the time.”

From draft concept to final design, through siting and funding and construction, Duffy was there, campaigning along with a few others for a vision that would be unlike any other library in the county system. When the large, multi-faceted facility opened in 2005 and then began observing anniversaries, Duffy was there, cheering, coaching, coaxing. And when the SouthShore Friends of the Library was formed, aiming to support library endeavors however possible, Duffy was there, pulling along, pushing ahead, to ensure continued development of features.

Today, he speaks with obvious pleasure about the various segments of the area’s diverse population he sees in the regional facility, making use of its multiple aspects, from elementary school youngsters to SCC seniors, from families to groups assembling for meetings, from non-natives for whom English is not the first language to high school and college level teachers.

And, yes, he allows, referring to his award, “I’m pretty proud of this.”

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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