The 65th Annual Convention for GAWDA (Gases and Welding Distributors Association) opened at the Grand Hyatt Convention Centre in San Antonio, Texas yesterday.

Outgoing President Britt Lovin welcomed over 400 delegates to the gathering of the distributors from throughout the US, as the four-day foray got off to a successful start.

Lovin admitted in his opening speech that when he took on the role last year in the Bahamas, he had thought to himself, “can I have a different year to be President?”

He confessed he could not have expected possibly the most dramatic time in GAWDA’s history – certainly in the past 20 years - as he went on to explain that soon after he had stepped into the Presidential shoes, the Dow Jones Index dropped 2399 points, the US economy nose dived and GAWDA started to lose members.

This forced Lovin and the GAWDA board to have a major re-think and he explained that despite the downturn, there were over 140 distributors attending this year, over 220 suppliers to the industry, and the haemorrhaging of members had begun to reverse - with over 45 returning to the fold.

He also set out to streamline the management of GAWDA and ensure the organisation is more efficient and profitable in some of its regional meetings. “I hope I left GAWDA stronger and better than I found it,” he concluded.

Lovin’s wife, Julie, proudly announced a record collection of over $161,000 from the ‘GAWDA Gives Back Campaign’ that this year supported the WINGS (Women Involved in Nurturing, Giving and Sharing) organisation, which mainly supports women’s cancer treatments for the poor and needy.

The GAWDA Gives Back scheme started 10 years ago and was the idea of Dave and Donna Mahoney, who over that time have helped raise over $785,000. Britt awarded the President’s prize in an emotional moment to Dave for all his efforts – applauded by the audience.