Archived Story

A magnificent motivation

Published 9:00pm Saturday, August 17, 2013

By Dennis Edwards

Every now and then, it’s wise to examine our motivations. What defines us? What drives us to do what we do and why?

Some are propelled by a desire for wealth. Others need recognition. Still others get lost in the striving, confused by a misdirected compass.

Deeper motivations stand the test of time and the shifting sands of life. Sometimes they’re wrapped in memories of parents, friends and others long gone. The idea may seem outdated. But then the things that drive us to do the extraordinary are timeless, the same for our parents as they are for us.

There’s nothing wrong with a desire to please a larger-than-life father or mother. After all, who they are has a tendency to show up in us, to emerge as an inseparable part of ourselves.

I think John Harrell, the owner of Suffolk Iron Works, would say that’s true in his life. Some time ago, he invited me over for a tour of one of Suffolk’s most successful businesses. I didn’t know the company’s ties to the railroad and highway construction industries, didn’t know it did business all over the country.

When I was a boy in the sixth grade at Booker T. Middle School, I walked home every day along East Washington Street through the historic Fairgrounds business district. In fact Dr. H.M. Diggs was my doctor growing up. My Dad had his accounting business just down the hall from his office. Bubba Richards’ drug store was on the ground floor below. Mr. Darden, my barber, had his shop a few doors away.

I always wondered who owned the iron works less than a block away. I used to walk home along a side street and stare at the men making sparks inside.

When John invited me for a tour I jumped at the opportunity. What I found was a family owned business with an amazing track record. Yet what seized my attention was the deep sense of humanity and pride John had in running a business passed down to him from his father, a business he’s passed to his sons.

In an unguarded moment, he talked about the kind of man his father was. And then he gave me a glimpse into what could be the magnificent motivation of his life. “With all that we’ve done and all the growing the company’s seen, I wonder whether my father knows how well I’ve done?” he asked.

What a fascinating question.

In some way or another I think we all ask the same question. Do our parents know what and how we’ve done? Are they proud? Some parents didn’t expect us to do so well. Some expected another sibling to excel. Some thought we wouldn’t stick with anything long enough to succeed.

John’s question gives us a lesson we can all benefit from. Inside his unguarded moment surfaced a deep desire to please a man he admired all his life, a man whose approval he sought even after death.

What a magnificent motivation, to carry on a dream and build on it. To measure up to the giants in our lives.

I think those who go before us never really leave. So I tend to believe John’s Dad knows and is proud of how well he’s done. Just like your parents and mine.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at

  • alwaysaab

    Wow!! What a great story. Yes Mr. Harrell your father is very proud of you and your sons. I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Harrell while in a previous employment and he is a very nice, caring, and sincere businessman. Kudos to the Harrell Family for a job well done and for sticking it out in Suffolk as he could have pulled out long ago. Congrats to all his workers as well as he knows he could not have done a job this great without them. That is just the kind of person he is. Suffolk needs more John Harrell’s and then we could flourish again as in the past as a city without the loads of bad publicity surrounding locals and their business ethics.

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