If people in Lexington don't have much respect for you, they make fun of you behind your back. If they have a lot of respect for you, they fill a hotel ballroom for a charity fund-raiser and make fun of you to your face.
Since 2005, breakfast roasts have become an annual kickoff for the Salvation Army's Christmas Kettle Campaign. The event Wednesday packed the Hyatt Regency's Patterson Ballroom with more than 430 people.
This year's honoree and victim was Luther Deaton, chairman, president and CEO of Central Bank. Deaton is an influential businessman and colorful character — a smart and savvy good ol' boy with a big heart.
Deaton's roasters were fellow good ol' boys: Alan Stein, recently retired head of the Lexington Legends baseball team; Wayne Martin, head of WKYT (Channel 27); and Bill Lear, head of the law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden. Emcee Terry McBrayer, a lawyer, lobbyist and former politician, took shots at them all and received plenty in return.
"What can you say about a man who is admired, who is revered, who is loved by everyone?" Stein asked the audience. "Well, that's for the Jim Host roast next year. It don't think it applies to Luther."
Deaton was born and raised near Haddix in Breathitt County, and he has lost none of his Eastern Kentucky accent after more than two decades in Lexington. So there were plenty of jokes about his mountain upbringing and the way he talks.
"He was raised so far back in the country, he had to go toward town to go hunting," McBrayer said.
There were jokes about Deaton's short stature, his giant houseboat on Lake Cumberland, his golf game, his politics, and his fondness for pretty women and strong drinks.
"Luther likes to cover his bases in politics," said Stein, husband of state Sen. Kathy Stein, a Lexington Democrat. "He will tell you at the drop of a hat who he's supporting in a political race, and he will come to you the next week and ask for a contribution — more often than not for the other guy."
But all of the roasters' jabs at Deaton quickly turned to praise. "He's honest, he's honorable. If he's your friend, he's always your friend. And if he's your enemy, you'd better get the heck out of the way," Lear said.
"The world needs more Luther Deatons," Martin added. "Honorable, passionate people who understand that the best decisions are made not only with the head but with the heart."
When it was finally Deaton's turn to speak, he offered a few jabs back at his roasters. But he mostly wanted to thank sisters Joan and the late Jane Kincaid, who in 1996 put him in charge of their bank and allowed him the success that has enabled him to give back to his community and state.
Deaton and his roasters also praised the work of the Salvation Army, and they encouraged attendees to do everything they could to help the organization reach its Kettle Campaign goal of $450,000, a small increase from last year's collection.
They urged people to give to the Army's bell-ringers outside stores, volunteer their time as bell-ringers and set up "online kettles" to collect donations by going to OnlineRedKettle.org or SalvationArmyLex.org.
The Salvation Army said that last year in the Bluegrass it provided 142,918 meals for homeless people, 48,576 nights of lodging for women and families, emergency assistance for 42,227 people and gave Christmas gifts to 7,024 children.
The Salvation Army is often the safety net of last resort for people in crisis. As unemployment remains high and the economy slow, more people are in crisis than ever.
Deaton told the crowd that while visiting the Salvation Army's Lexington shelter a couple of weeks ago, a woman approached him and said, "Luther, how are you doing?"
"I had known this lady for a long time, and I had no idea she was at the Salvation Army," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Deaton said he was glad the Salvation Army was there to help her and so many others. "What these people do is unbelievable," he said.