A unifying symbol

Published 3:37 pm Monday, March 1, 2010

Bill Reid loved all things England. He loved the countryside, the people and the tradition. He enjoyed the pageantry of the country and the symbolism in much of its culture.

The longtime Suffolk businessman made many trips to England and conveyed his passion to many of his friends in his hometown.

“He loved England. He really loved going there,” G.S. “Pistol” Hobbs recalled. “It really was a passion.”

It was Reid’s knowledge of England, its traditions and culture, that led him — as president of the Suffolk Rotary Club — to start a project in the late 1970s aimed at providing a symbol that would help unify the two communities that recently had become the City of Suffolk.

Coming Together

When the former county of Nansemond and city of Suffolk merged into Virginia’s largest city in 1974, there were those who felt a “symbol” was needed to help ease the transition from separate communities into one large city.

That symbol proved to be a mace.

According to “The Suffolk Mace” booklet written by Patrick J. Coffield — which details the history of the mace, its reason for being created and the process of designing it — the “new symbol was needed to tie the two former cities (Nansemond and Suffolk) together and to develop a sense of civic pride for the consolidated city.”

It was not until July 7, 1978, that the Suffolk City Council passed a resolution ordering the mace’s production. But the goal was to use no city funds in the mace’s production and to have an outside committee help design and coordinate the work.

“The City Council felt that the mace should be developed and given to the citizens of Suffolk at no cost in local tax dollars,” the booklet reads.

As part of the resolution, the city challenged the Suffolk Rotary Club “to take this on as a civic project.”

Then serving as the club’s president, Reid more than happily agreed to the task and created a Mace Committee to help coordinate the construction efforts. The club agreed to underwrite the total cost of developing the mace and “made it possible that this symbol could be a true gift to the citizens of Suffolk, Virginia.”

Those joining Reid on the Mace Committee were G. Robert House Jr., Harry Pettit and Hiram O. Ward.

History of Maces

Though it once was a weapon for warfare and hunting, the mace grew to represent power and pride in an English township.

Under the direction of the English House of Commons in the 17th Century, guidelines were created to better direct the design of maces in a specific “forme and patterne.”

The Suffolk mace follows these guidelines and is representative of those maces created in England after the House of Commons’ decision in 1648.

Its creation

After the city council’s endorsement of the mace plan in June 1978, the Suffolk Rotary Club’s mace committee researched different styles and concepts in an effort to best represent Suffolk.

Organizers settled on a design similar to that of the mace of Ipswich, England — located in Suffolk County.

According to the Suffolk Rotary Yearbook, the design was “altered slightly with the addition of the City Seal of Suffolk, Virginia, in the top.”

The club also selected a London silversmith to create the mace, which, when finished, stood 40 inches tall and weighed nearly 10 pounds.

Although the cost of the finished product could not be verified, the club fulfilled the goal of not using taxpayer dollars in the mace’s construction.

Description of the Suffolk Mace

Below is the complete description of the mace as it appears in “The Suffolk Mace” booklet:

“The head of the Suffolk mace, which is supported by simple scroll brackets, is in the form of an open arched crown with an orb and cross lying on its top. The bowl is embossed and divided into panels by winged and armless female terminals enduring in acanthus foliage, each panel containing the crowned emblems of England, France, Scotland, and Ireland on a field of pounced circles. The Seal of the City of Suffolk is on top of the crown directly beneath the orb and cross. The seal is represented by a design formed within two circles. Directly above the inner circle are the words “Nansemond 1646” and “Suffolk 1742.” Surrounding the lower portion of the inner circle are the words “City of Suffolk, Virginia.” The design of the inner circle consists of four sections representing Suffolk’s past and present. The upper right is a bust of Captain John Smith, typifying the history of the City; the lower right is a factory, typifying the City’s strong industrial economy and the lower left is a fisherman, typifying the great opportunity for recreation in the City; and in the upper left is a tractor, barn, and corn stalks, typifying the City’s longstanding ties with agriculture. A peanut is located in the center of the seal, signifying the importance of the peanut in the economy of Suffolk. The coronet around the top of the crown is elaborately embellished with small crosses and fleur-de-lis and under the crown are the Royal Arms. The shaft is chased throughout with roses and thistles and the dividing knobs with acanthus leaves.”

Presentation and current home

During a Ladies’ Night meeting on May 10, 1979, Reid’s project was complete as he presented the finished mace to the city. The event, held at the National Guard Armory, featured former Governor Mills Godwin Jr. as the special guest.

The event featured a five-man honor guard, dressed in colonial British uniforms, carrying the mace in its first official showing. Three Rotarians, dressed in colonial attire, distributed copies of the 1742 charter of the Town of Suffolk to Rotarians and miniature replicas of the Suffolk Mace to the ladies present.

As for her reaction to the mace, Reid’s daughter Connie Happel was understandably biased.

“I think it is beautiful,” Happel said. “He really took a lot of pride in it.”

Although “The Suffolk Mace” booklet said the mace would be displayed daily at the Suffolk Municipal Building on Market Street, it currently resides at the Suffolk Visitors Center on North Main Street in the Prentis House.

Suffolk city spokeswoman Debbie George said the Mace’s future home would be the refurbished Nansemond County Courthouse, which is currently under construction.

The mace will find a home in the building’s lobby, offering a welcoming sight to those coming in the building. ←