Ed Dick's life of compassion earns him Manatee County Distinguished Citizen Award

PALMETTO -- Edward Keenan Dick, 85, who could not turn a blind eye to the plight of refugees at the end of the Vietnam War and who sponsored 700 Vietnamese who fled to the United States, was honored Thursday as Manatee County's Distinguished Citizen.

Ed Dick's helping hand in the 1970s was a remarkable act of kindness and compassion, but only part of his legacy of love and concern for others.

In announcing the award at the VIP luncheon, which opened the 2015 Manatee County Fair, Vernon DeSear quoted the late Sen. Ed Price, who once referred to Dick as "one of God's chosen people."

"He epitomizes the scriptures: He who

loves God loves his brother and sister," DeSear said. "This unassuming man works tirelessly for the less-fortunate and suffering."

Dick, in frail health and in a wheelchair these days, but with his mind still sharp and his eyes bright, rolled himself to the stage to accept the award.

Since the Distinguished Citizen Award was first presented in 1956, it has been a closely guarded secret.

But a week ago, Dick said, he figured out he would be the recipient of the award. So he came prepared with a list of others who he said were more deserving.

At the top of the list was his wife of 61 years, Joanne.

Dick praised his wife for putting up with his temper, and having to cook for as many as 17 people at a time for months on end.

"Anyone who puts up with me is unbelievable," Dick said.

Dick assembled a coalition of more than 1,000 volunteers and 70 churches in forming Refugee Inc. to assist refugees escaping genocide and abuse. Over the years, Ed and Joanne Dick hosted more than 300 refugees from 10 countries in their home, DeSear said.

In addition to his work with refugee relief, Dick is a founding member of the Sheriff's Youth Ranch, a former member of the Manatee School Board, and is a founding director of Guardian Angels of Southwest Florida, working with Florida Baptist Childrens Homes to provide homes for orphaned or disadvantaged children.

He is the recipient of many previous awards, including the 1977 Silver Medallion from the National Conference of Christians and Jews; the 1979 NAACP Humanitarian Award; the 1997 Louise Rogers Humanitarian Award from the Palmetto Youth Center; the 2008 Volunteer Spirit Award from the Manatee Community Foundation; and the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from Manatee County Rural Health.

Professionally, he was a partner with Dick, Johnson and Jefferson Insurance Agency for 45 years, and is a graduate of the University of Miami.

Ed and Joanne Dick have eight adopted children, and two sons who are deceased.

James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.