During Thursday evening’s reception in his honor, at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, Suffolk First Citizen Robert W. “Bobby” Harrell Jr. smiles for the camera with Tim Early, left, and Tim Harschutz, right.
During Thursday evening’s reception in his honor, at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, Suffolk First Citizen Robert W. “Bobby” Harrell Jr. smiles for the camera with Tim Early, left, and Tim Harschutz, right.

Harrell named First Citizen

Published 11:02pm Thursday, April 17, 2014

Robert W. “Bobby” Harrell accepted the Suffolk First Citizen award from the Suffolk and North Suffolk Rotary clubs in a reception Thursday evening at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

Harrell is a businessman who has been a successful nonprofit fundraiser, sat on numerous boards, championed community colleges, founded two Ruritan clubs, served in the Jaycees, been active in politics, traveled on trade missions and more.

Most recently, he almost single-handedly pulled together the money for the Salvation Army’s new Physical Education and Health Building, raising so much that they named the building after him.

But Harrell said Thursday that he could not have accomplished any of it by himself.

“We’ve been able to do that through the structure and fiber that runs through this community,” he said.

Suffolk has more than 100 churches and more than 100 civic organizations, he estimated.

“Each one’s working in the community to make Suffolk stronger,” he said. Other communities may rival Suffolk, but “I don’t think any exceeds ours in the way everybody pulls together,” he said.

The evening included an introduction by Dr. Tory Bishop, a physical therapist who nominated Harrell for the award with the help of Harrell’s wife. She first met him when he was her patient, she said.

“We had a difficult time making it through a physical therapy session because he was always telling jokes,” she said.

One of his favorites was asking her how many Hokies it takes to screw in a lightbulb. He’s a College of William and Mary graduate, while her family has many connections to Virginia Tech.

She one-upped him on Thursday, though.

“It only takes one to nominate you for Suffolk’s First Citizen,” she said.

A video presentation featured people from many areas of Harrell’s life. They honored his service locally as well as across the state.

Harrell — who joked that a gust of wind carried away all 26 pages of his speech — said the people he has worked with have helped make things happen.

“There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there is ‘I’ in initiative, and somebody has to take it,” he said. “I accept this award tonight from the Suffolk Rotary and North Suffolk Rotary on behalf of everyone in Suffolk.”

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