By Mark E. Vogler
---- — HAVERHILL — Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis got a hero’s welcome last night at the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner.
Davis, a Lowell native who played a key role in the police response and investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings, received a standing ovation from a crowd of more than 300 at DiBurro’s function hall, as he received the chamber’s Leadership and Valor Award.
“This award hasn’t been given in the history of the Merrimack Valley Chamber’s 125 years,” said Joseph Bevilacqua, chamber president and chief executive officer. “But we believe there is nobody more deserving.’’
Salvatore Lupoli, president of the chamber’s Board of Directors and a friend of Davis, echoed Bevilacqua’s praise for the Boston police commissioner, who announced last month that he would be leaving the post after seven years.
“Ed Davis is a Merrimack Valley guy,” Lupoli said. “Ed Davis is from the City of Lowell. Ed Davis protected us all ... He’s truly a friend of our community.”
Lupoli, who has personally known Davis since his days in Lowell, called him “a true hero” in an interview after the dinner.
“When you look up ‘hero’ in the dictionary, you’ll see his face,” Lupoli said.
During brief remarks after receiving the award, Davis recalled his friendship with Lupoli.
When he moved to Boston to accept the police commissioner’s job, Davis noted that he enjoyed a special relationship with his his friend.
“His restaurant was in the same building I lived in,” Davis said, referring to Salvatore’s on the Waterfront in Boston. “He’s responsible for some of my problem,” Davis quipped, making light of his girth and drawing laughter from the crowd.
With the main table decorated with bunting and a string of red, white and blue balloons anchoring each of the individual tables in the banquet hall, the chamber paid special tribute to veterans.
Representatives from each of the municipal veterans services offices in the Merrimack Valley received plaques as recipients of this year’s Ralph B. Wilkerson Award.
Bevilacqua also unveiled a new chamber strategy to assist the veterans, particularly those who are returning from overseas with plans to launch a business in the area. He also said the chamber will assist veterans in connecting with area businesses.
“Two companies came up to me and said, ‘Introduce me to the vets,’” Bevilacqua told the crowd later.
“You can use the chamber as a catalyst,” he said.
The chamber presented its Volunteer Recognition Award to Al DeLuca.
“I look out here and see 20 other people who deserve it more than I do,” DeLuca said.
The Greater Lawrence Technical School and the Whittier Regional High School received The Community Spirit Award.
State Treasurer Steve Grossman was this year’s featured speaker.
“Make optimism a way of life,” Grossman said, recalling a quote from baseball great and Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson.
“That quote is on my father’s gravestone,” Grossman said.
In an inspirational speech, Grossman said the valley has much to proud of as in its economic opportunity and growth. Grossman singled out the business development of Lupoli.
He said, “4,000 jobs in the City of Lawrence ... 200 companies and he’s not done yet,’’ referring to Lupoli impact in developing the Riverwalk complex.
The state treasurer also noted that $65 million in taxpayers’ money has been deposited in five banks in the valley. He called for “a round of applause for the banks of the Merrimack Valley.”