Thomas Paine Celebration in Southwest Florida Expected to be Largest in the Nation

Event commemorates 280th anniversary of the birth of the Revolutionary War patriot, whose writings remain central to democratic movements worldwide

(Sarasota, Fla. – January 23, 2017) – This year’s southwest Florida commemoration of the 280th anniversary of the birth of Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Paine is expected to easily surpass other similar events held around the country, making it the largest such celebration in the United States.

“With our nation more deeply divided than in recent memory, there’s a renewed interest in our Founders’ democratic principles,” says Gene Jones, a Vietnam era veteran, retired attorney, and president of the southwest Florida veterans group hosting the event.

The hosting group, Florida Veterans for Common Sense, is named for Paine’s most famous work, “Common Sense,” which provided the philosophy underpinning the founding of the United States.  “At the time, they were viewed as radicals and rabble-rousers,” explains Jones about Paine and the Founding Fathers, “but today Paine’s ideas are central to democracies and democracy-building worldwide.

Saturday’s commemorative event will feature a dinner surrounded by Revolutionary War and other historical flags and memorabilia, souvenir photos, music — and of course an “appearance” by Thomas Paine himself.

Paine will be played by amateur actor and Vietnam War veteran Kevin Connelly, experienced at playing Paine.  The costume play is a far reach from Connelly’s daily life, where he serves as the CEO of Apollo Sunguard Systems, a Sarasota business that manufactures outdoor sun shades.

“Paine’s most famous quote is perhaps, ‘These are the times that try men’s souls,’” says Connelly, who is expected to echo those words from the past during his Paine reenactment.

The event also features a note of seriousness – an annual award to exemplify Paine’s philosophy of common sense and “everything which is just, reasonable, and honorable; or the evils that will follow from an inattention to those principles.”  The 2016 Thomas Paine award will be made to national advocate Nancy Parrish for her leadership on military sexual trauma policy change, including through a group she founded, Protect Our Defenders.  The award will be presented by Anthony Hardie, national director of Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans’ advocacy organization that has frequently testified before Congress on veterans and military issues.  Parrish will provide comments with updates on her successful advocacy work.

The event is being hosted this Saturday, January 28 at Renaissance on 9th in Bradenton, Fla., near Sarasota where the event has been hosted annually by Florida Veterans for Common Sense.  Attendance has continued to grow and a larger space was needed this year to accommodate the greater demand for participation.

Tickets are $60, include a full course dinner, and are available on the group’s website, Proceeds go to help FLVCS’s local veteran projects, including a veteran farming therapy program and direct assistance programs for homeless and hospitalized veterans.

Live music will be provided by “Daniel Paul” Fugazzatto.


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