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Next Virginian of the Year among us?

Published 9:02pm Tuesday, October 8, 2013

For more than four decades, the Virginia Press Association has presented a Virginian of the Year Award to a deserving citizen or former citizen of the commonwealth.

For most of those years, the award went to a celebrity.

There were entertainers (Bruce Hornsby, Roy Clark, Ralph Stanley), journalists (Roger Mudd, James Kilpatrick), politicians (Gerald Baliles, Harry Byrd Jr.) and titans of business and industry. Even a NASCAR driver or two.

A few years ago, VPA, on whose board of directors I’m privileged to serve, took the award in a radically different direction and decided to honor “ordinary” citizens who do extraordinary things.

Since 2010, the winners have been people whose names are largely unrecognizable outside their hometowns but who, arguably, have contributed much more to the well-being of the commonwealth than their celebrity predecessors.

The 2011 honoree was the Rev. Dr. Robert Bluford Jr., a Presbyterian pastor who in 1968 founded The Fan Free Clinic in Richmond. Over 45 years it has treated tens of thousands of people who otherwise may not have been able to afford to see a doctor. Bluford also has been a driving force behind efforts to preserve Civil War battlefields and the historic Polegreen Church site in Hanover County.

The 2012 winner was Doris Buffett. Unlike her famous brother Warren, Doris keeps a low profile in her hometown of Fredericksburg. Her Sunshine Lady Foundation has donated more than $100 million to help underprivileged people in Virginia and beyond.

The 2013 Virginian of the Year was Walter Segaloff, who founded An Achievable Dream, a nonprofit organization that partners with the city of Newport News to run two public schools serving some of that city’s poorest and most disadvantaged students. After receiving the award last spring, Walter died of a heart attack in August.

The deadline to nominate people for the 2014 award is Nov. 1, which leads me to suggest that maybe it’s time to nominate someone from Suffolk.

Since the Virginian of the Year Award was revamped in 2010, no one from South Hampton Roads, much less from Suffolk specifically, has won it. That’s probably because few people from this region have been nominated. No one from Suffolk has, even though our city is home to many selfless servants who continually improve the lives of others through their volunteer efforts.

Our newspaper would like to change that. In the next week or so, send me an email or letter about someone you’d like to see nominated. Include a few paragraphs about what makes him or her worthy of the honor.

We’ll pick one deserving person to nominate for the 2014 honor and save the others for nomination in future years.

The competition is stout, so we can’t promise that Suffolk’s nominee will win. But it’s time that someone from this area at least be in the conversation.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is steve.stewart@suffolknewsherald.com.

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