Too much power for 13 people to wield

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Editor, the News-Herald:

Until three weeks ago I counted myself as one of the majority. You know, the &uot;silent citizens&uot; of Suffolk. Right up until it came to my attention that the Obici Hospital complex was not being sold and the Board of Directors had voted to remove the buildings and sell the property.

Born, actually at Obici, and raised in Nansemond County, I found this very disturbing and wondered what had happened to the potential buyers. What I found more disturbing is how this came about so fast.

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How could the majority of 13 people vote to nullify the life and legacy of one of this area’s greatest citizens? I personally know a few members of this body and the rest I know by reputation as being outstanding leaders of not only this community, but representing us at the state level as well. These people have been long standing members of our community and knew better than most the importance of history to the natural progress or expansion of a community.

Some might feel that is controversy is over another old building that is worth saving, a building that after 50 years, still has 50 more years of community service to provide.

I assure you that for me it is more than that. It is also about how an Italian immigrant by the name of Amedeo Obici came to this area to start a small chocolate and nut company. How his company grew to include factories and warehouses in most major cities along the East Coast. But this man and his family stayed here.

There were many contributions that this man made, but I feel none so great as the one he made after his death. And it was not a building. In a time when prejudices in this country were commonplace, he established a hospital that no matter what ethnic background or whether you were rich or poor, you would never be refused medical care.

In addition, he established a School of Nursing that grew to be one of the finest in the nation. Throughout this country there are some of the best-trained medical professionals due to this man’s bequest of over 50 years ago.

Was this done out of love? Probably. But not only the love this man had for the community, but because of the love the community had for this man. I have been told that Mr. Obici, although a shrewd businessman, was also one of the people. That if you saw him on the street, he would take the time to speak with you. Even if you were the man that swept the floor at his factory. Where is that love today.

For those that want to talk about saving &uot;another old building,&uot; why not? This building is possibly one of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in the city. With the stone, marble natural wood and other materials that today would not even be considered unless you have an excessive construction budget. The main entrance itself sets the stage for the majesty of the building with the high ceilings, large windows and natural wood. The large waiting area still holds many emotions – concern for the sick, rejoice for the newborn and sorrow for the grief of the ones lost.

Does this building need to be saved? Why not?

Three weeks ago I attended the Obici Board of Directors meeting and asked them to delay demolition until I could raise funds. I thought about some of the needs of the medical professionals – urgent care, school for nurses, medical offices, consultants and laboratories that would enhance the health care for our community. I sat down and wrote a letter of the many possible uses for this magnificent piece of property and then I took to the streets in an attempt to locate prospective investors. I spoke to many people and greatly appreciate their taking the time. I was part of the rally on Monday night to show the board that the citizens were in support of them negotiating with the prospective buyer.

As of last week, even with the demolition underway, a full asking price offer was presented to Obici Hospital. Why is it so hard for the board of directors to understand that this would not only be beneficial to Obici Hospital and the City of Suffolk, but the injustice to the Tidewater community as a whole.

It is my hope that community, civic leaders, preservation societies, members of the board and residents of the city that have the power to correct this will realize in 30 or 40 years a group of 13 people could vote to nullify their lives, that what they have worked so hard for and what they have accomplished and given back to the community is meaningless against the values we have adopted in the name of big business.

Robert L. Fowler,