Bobby Harrell looks to “The Fun and Laughter of Politics” by John Parker for inspiration for his upcoming speech to accept the 2014 First Citizen award from the Suffolk and North Suffolk Rotary clubs. The event will happen this Thursday at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.
Bobby Harrell looks to “The Fun and Laughter of Politics” by John Parker for inspiration for his upcoming speech to accept the 2014 First Citizen award from the Suffolk and North Suffolk Rotary clubs. The event will happen this Thursday at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

Harrell to be honored as First Citizen

Published 10:07pm Saturday, April 12, 2014

Robert W. “Bobby” Harrell Jr. knows a lot of people and has a lot of connections.

That’s what makes him such a successful fundraiser, he says. Harrell helped raise so much money for the Salvation Army’s Physical Education and Health Building that opened last year that they named the building after him.

“We set out to build a facility to help the neighborhood,” he said recently. “I didn’t set out for awards.”

But his successful effort at raising money for the building was a contributing factor to his winning nomination for the 2014 Suffolk First Citizen. He’ll be honored by the Suffolk and North Suffolk Rotary clubs on Thursday with a reception at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

Harrell graduated from Whaleyville High School and earned a degree in business administration from The College of William and Mary in 1960. He followed that up with a master’s in business administration from Old Dominion University in 1971, along with a higher-education certificate from William and Mary in 1993.

He was vice president and co-owner of Joel E. Harrell and Sons as well as Kincaid Distributing Company.

But it’s been his unpaid work that has made him stand out from the crowd.

He currently sits on the boards for the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center, Hampton Roads Technology Council and Portsmouth Museums, as well as the Salvation Army. In the past he has been on a slew of boards, including the Virginia State Board of Community Colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, Hampton Roads Clean Cities Coalition, Bank of America Entrepreneurial Center at ODU, Business Technology Center at the College of William and Mary, Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center at Old Dominion University and more.

His community service and humanitarianism have made a difference for more than the Salvation Army. He co-founded two Ruritan clubs, Suffolk and Liberty Spring. He also was a founding member of the Suffolk Racquet Club and a youth league softball and basketball coach.

In the political arena, he has served on the city and state Democratic committees, as well as the Fourth District Committee, and was chairman for the House of Delegates and Senate districts.

He has traveled on trade missions, served on Gov. Gerald Baliles’ transition team in 1985 and sat on numerous advisory committees for various efforts.

He now co-chairs the Rural Virginia Initiative with former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. The organization helps rural residents obtain their GEDs or stay in school.

But after all that other community service, Harrell says his greatest accomplishment still is the Salvation Army building.

“Several generations will get the chance to benefit from it,” he said.

But he is quick to tell people he didn’t do it by himself. All that other work gave him a lot of connections, and he used them to the community’s advantage.

“When it came time to build the building, I had a lot of strings I could pull,” he said. “I don’t have any IOUs left now.”

Harrell emphasizes that more than half the building’s funding — 58.6 percent — came from community foundations, nearly two dozen of them.

“That takes a breadth of people,” he said. “We had lots of folks supporting that project. The gratifying thing is to walk back in now and see it being used.”

On a wider scope, Harrell points to his work with the state’s community colleges as his most important effort. He’s been involved with them to some extent for all but six years of their existence, he said, starting first as an adjunct instructor and moving on to be on the state board.

Thursday’s reception will be at 6 p.m. at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. Registration is $35 each, and proceeds go toward community and charitable projects.

Register online at www.suffolkfirstcitizen.com.

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  • Jefferson

    While I was sorry to hear that Mr Richard did not speak personally about his award, it was nice that he let his brother stand in for him. I heard it was a success and Mr Richard’s brother was even able to round up and sell several deeply discounted tickets to spend the night next month in the Lincoln bedroom in D.C.

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  • Jefferson

    While you’ve aged from your picture, I remember from your youth thinking you’d be the one of the brothers to amount to something. Congratulations to you and Nora on this overdue honor.

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  • Cat

    I have admired Mr Harrell for years, even back when he was on City Council and in the lumber business. No one deserves this award more, and I’m sure Nora and Ryan are proud of him.

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