NEW ORLEANS — Friends, colleagues and family members heaped praise on Bruce McEvoy as the United Fresh Produce Association honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

McEvoy’s 50-year career, the last 22 at Seald Sweet International as president and now a government relations consultant, also includes seven years on the United Fresh board. He was United Fresh chairman in 1999-2000.

At the Jan. 10 award dinner, United Fresh president and CEO Tom Stenzel said McEvoy has touched many areas of the industry, from the grower side, to importing and exporting, and even international diplomacy.

“Bruce, for 50 years, has been involved in helping lead our industry,” Stenzel said. “You’ve made your mark on this industry, so thank you for all you’ve done.”

Over half of those years, McEvoy has been active in United Fresh programs and leadership.

“I’m sincerely honored, and almost don’t know what to say,” McEvoy said. “It’s far beyond any expectations that I have. … To be acknowledged in front of your peers, you probably can’t ask for anything more in life.”

McEvoy stressed that United Fresh’s success comes not from individuals like himself, but the industry working together. He listed early efforts on the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act and recent work on the Food Safety Modernization Act as examples of the industry working together.

“Everything I think I’ve done in recent years, it’s not me, it’s a team,” he said. “It’s people that have a special talent in different areas of government, (not) just one person.”

Several speakers at the dinner focused on McEvoy’s expertise in globalization at different companies he’s worked for, including Seald Sweet CEO Mayda Sotomayor-Kirk, who McEvoy hired. Traveling extensively with him, Sotomayor-Kirk said McEvoy was highly respected by the growers and marketers in the counties they visited.

“I’m eternally grateful to you for the guidance and leadership you have shown me,” she said. “You’re a true inspiration on behalf of our company, the industry and from me personally, thank you.”

In a video played at the event, Hein Deprez, executive chairman of the board for Belgium-based Univeg, which purchased Seald Sweet in 2011, also praised McEvoy’s global-minded business acumen.

McEvoy’s sons Bruce and Randolph, and his brother Jerry, spoke of his dedication to the industry.

“He loves this industry, he really does,” Bruce McEvoy Jr. said. “He’s brought a terrific amount of energy and passion to the industry. I think he’s given a lot, and received a lot from all of you.”

Jerry McEvoy said his brother, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2008, has responded in the way he does with a business goal: once he sets his mind on it,  he does everything possible to make it happen. Beyond his personal fight aganst the disease, Bruce McEvoy is chairman of his local Alzheimers/Parkinson’s association, is involved in national fundraising efforts.
 
McEvoy said people facing the disease have to take control of it, but keep a sense of humor, and be active.
 
“In my work with the association, I go to all the exercise classes as well, I don’t just say, ‘What if you try this and see how this works,’” he said. “Whether its boxing or dancing, you have to be a part of it.”
 
The Packer named McEvoy Produce Man of the Year in 2000, and he was included in the inaugural Packer 25 list of industry leaders.

Salad bars

McEvoy lauded United Fresh and the United Fresh Start Foundation for increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables through the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools prgram, which traces its origin to first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative.

Sotomayor-Kirk said Greenyard Foods, which merged with Univeg in 2015, is donating a salad bar to the school of McEvoy’s choice, in honor of his Lifetime Achievement recognition.

Also at the dinner, United Fresh announced it is donating its third salad bar to the International School of Louisiana, in New Orleans. School officials attended the dinner, and foodservice director Melissa Boudreaux said the program has increased fresh fruit and vegetable consumption at the schools.

Stenzel announced a new program that goes beyond the salad bars, with a goal of increasing consumption by students beyond the school environment. Starting this spring, United Fresh plans to award 10 grants of $2,500 each to community programs that promote produce consumption by school-age children.

Stenzel said the salad bar program is making a “big difference,” and the association wants to reach children not just at school, but after school hours, on weekends and during the summer break.