A fine First CitizenPublished 10:49pm Monday, April 15, 2013
Suffolk will celebrate the life and service of one of its finest citizens on Thursday, when the Suffolk and North Suffolk Rotary clubs gather to bestow the honor of First Citizen upon Dr. R. Leroy Howell Sr. at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.
By all accounts, there is hardly a person living in the city today who deserves the honor more.
The motto of Rotary International is “Service Above Self,” and since 2003, when the downtown chapter of the organization took over the process of choosing an honoree from among the nominees each year, officials on the selection committee have striven to pick the person who best exemplifies the spirit of citizenship and who has shown significant leadership through his or her time, talents and efforts in order to make Suffolk a better place to live, according to club leaders.
The award originated in 1956, when the now-defunct Cosmopolitan Club began honoring those who have worked to make Suffolk special. It has been given every year since then, with the exception of a hiatus from 1999 to 2002.
Howell stands tall in that long line of recipients. From his service to the nation as a member of the U.S. Army Dental Corps, he came back to his hometown with a passion for making the world a better place, starting right here in his own community.
A single term on the City Council following the merger of Suffolk and Nansemond County was important for the groundwork that was laid for the new, much larger merged municipality. A desire for that city to host a cutting-edge retirement community that serves seniors with a broad range of capabilities led to the establishment of Lake Prince Woods. A passion for education resulted in a long term of service to his alma mater, Elon College, which grew during his 20-year term on the Board of Trustees to Elon University. And a drive to help young boys grow into better men pressed him into service on the Old Dominion Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Howell has made his mark in the Chuckatuck Ruritan Club, the Suffolk Rotary Club and on the philanthropic Birdsong Trust. He is a longtime member of Oakland Christian Church, where he has served as a Sunday School teacher for more than 50 years, which is also the amount of time he has been a dentist in Suffolk, having treated generations of patients who recall his ready smile and jovial chairside manner.
Howell is the epitome of Rotary’s “Service Above Self” motto, and Suffolk is a better place because he chose to perform so much of that service right here in his hometown.
The Suffolk First Citizen award ceremony will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. Registration is $30 per individual. For more information, visit www.suffolkrotary.org.