Betsy Brothers recognized for preservation efforts

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 1, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Betsy Brothers’ touch is light, almost invisible.

But for more than two decades, the historic preservationist’s fingerprint has helped reshape and revitalize Suffolk’s historic downtown community:


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Riddick’s Folly, the Seaboard Train Station, the Prentis House, College Court, and most recently, Suffolk High School.

Her endless energy and dedication to saving Suffolk’s past prompted Mike Ashe, principal with the Virginia Beach-based CMSS Architects, to nominate Brothers for a state preservation award.

&uot;I’ve been working with Betsy on the Suffolk project for three years,&uot; said Ashe, whose firm is handling the renovation of the high school into the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

&uot;As I’ve gotten to know her, I realized how many projects she has been involved with in the city of Suffolk… and the significance her impact has made on the city.&uot;

So when one of his professional associations, the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects, began taking nominations for its annual award, Ashe submitted her name.

&uot;The award for preservation is one of the highest we can give to architects, organizations, or individuals who have had some impact on preserving the fabric of our society,&uot; Ashe said. &uot;I realized that I had someone right under my nose who is the epitome of what this award is all about.&uot;

Brothers, one of seven nominations for the award, won the unanimous approval of the state organization’s honors committee, Ashe said.

Meanwhile, the Suffolk native was unaware she had even been nominated until Ashe notified her of the win.

Brothers said one key to the gradual rehabilitation of the downtown historical district is simple: &uot;We just keep plugging along.&uot;

And building by building, largely thanks to Brothers and her colleagues in the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society, many of the historic structures on Suffolk’s North Main Street have taken on a new life.

&uot;Every time another house is saved and turned from dilapidated to beautiful, I get excited,&uot; Brothers said. &uot;Seeing all this preservation work and development being done in downtown is wonderful.

&uot;It’s like a lot of little miracles happening to put us in a whole different mindset about how this town can look,&uot; she continued. &uot;We’re finally getting little pride back in the old downtown area.&uot;

All the preservation projects she has worked on over the years are special, said Brothers. But saving her alma mater, Suffolk High School, is particularly close to her heart.

&uot;The train station is awfully dear to my heart but Thomas Jefferson and Suffolk High are where I went to school and spent so many days of my life,&uot; she said. &uot;And I think it will make a difference to so many people. &uot;

The lives that place will touch will be amazing.&uot;

Current plans call for the renovation to begin on April 1, 2004, Brothers said.

To date, the organizing committee of the Suffolk Center for the Cultural Arts has raised approximately $3 million in private contribution, Brothers said. The group recently embarked on its last phase of fundraising, with a targeted goal of $1 million.

The city has kicked an additional $2 million.