When Jean Watt walked into the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club around noon Friday, she thought she had simply been invited to lunch with two friends.
Instead, when Watt reached the bottom of the stairs leading toward the club's outdoor patio, about 20 people greeted her with applause. The longtime Newport beach environmentalist had been named, much to her surprise, the Newport Beach Citizen of the Year.
Watt, known for environmental stewardship, placed her hand over her chest and looked confusedly across the smiling faces of those gathered, including past award recipients.
"Congratulations," said Councilman Steve Rosansky, the newly appointed president and chief executive of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the designation. "You're Citizen of the Year 2013."
Glasses of champagne were served, and Watt received personal accolades from those present.
Awardees of years past selected Watt, a former Newport Beach councilwoman, to receive the honor. When considering the recipient, they look for someone who has steadily contributed to the community over a significant period of time, said Robert Wynn, a past city manager and the 1978 recipient of the honor.