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Commonwealth Luncheon brings good crowd, good cheer

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Charlotte, N.C., resident, Bob McKay, left, and Stewart Foreman, of Ashbury, N.C., both formerly of Winchester, chat over drinks at the BB&T Commonwealth Luncheon Friday during the Apple Blossom Festival. — Joe Beck/Daily

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Bob Brown, left, and Dale Cochran, right, chat during the BB&T Commonwealth Luncheon Friday at the Apple Blossom Festival. Joe Beck/Daily

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

Laughter flowed like water and bonhomie filled the air Friday as nearly 400 businessmen gathered Friday for the BB&T Men's Commonwealth Luncheon at the Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester.

The luncheon is a new tradition for the Bloom, begun six or seven years ago, that brings together lawyers, accountants, business executives, salesmen and others at the historic Piccadilly's Public House & Restaurant for a few hours of low-tech networking. For a few hours, Facebook and Twitter give way to old-fashioned backslapping and spirited conversation.

Most of those attending were locals, but four North Carolinians, two of them former Winchester residents, were among the exceptions. Bob McKay of Charlotte said he moved away from Winchester 20 years ago to teach and coach football. He brought two friends from Charlotte, Tim Sudderth and Thomas Strouse, to partake in the week's festivities. McKay said he had been trying to persuade Sudderth and Strouse to come with him to the festival for years and finally succeeded.

McKay said his in-laws' house in Stephens City will be crammed this weekend with 20 visiting friends and family members drawn to the Apple Blossom Festival.

"There's a lot of air mattresses this weekend," McKay said.

Stewart Foreman, another former Winchester resident turned North Carolinian, said the festival is like a homecoming ritual that he tries to return to every year.

"I just came up this year so my parents could see their granddaughter," Foreman said.

The drinks and relaxed atmosphere were designed by organizers to create networking opportunities for the town's business leaders and aspiring business leaders. All of those interviewed agreed it had delivered on that promise this year.

David Henning, a CPA with the Yount, Hyde and Barbour accounting firm, said he enjoyed meeting clients in an informal setting.

"It's a great opportunity to get together and not talk about business and catch up with each other," Henning said. "There's a lot of great networking going on here."

Organizers were pleased at the turnout, and the animated conversations going on around them in cozy groups of three to five.

"We came close to selling out all the tickets. This is one of our top years, we feel," said attorney Cary Craig after delivering brief remarks from the podium.

Terry McAuliffe, a not-quite-declared Democratic candidate for governor in 2013, was among those who saw the luncheon as an opportunity to get acquainted with some local business leaders and took it.

"It's a good bipartisan crowd, lot of great food, lot of great drinks, what's not to like?" McAuliffe said.

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