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First Citizen

Most people know Doug Naismith as the longest-serving president at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy.

However, some may not know that it is the second “NSA” Naismith has worked for in his varied career. Besides the academy and the National Security Agency, Naismith also served in the U.S. Navy for 15 years and managed a farm equipment dealership.

It was his numerous volunteer positions, however, that earned Naismith one of the most prestigious awards given to Suffolk citizens — the First Citizen award, which is presented each year by the Suffolk Rotary Club. This year, the North Suffolk Rotary Club partnered with the Suffolk club to give the award.

“It’s an honor,” Naismith said last week. “It’s the kind of thing you never really feel you deserve, but nonetheless I’m glad to receive it.”

The award is chosen by a committee composed of Rotary members, who consider nominations made by the community. Naismith will be honored at a banquet in April.

In 1956, the First Citizen award went to R.L. Woodward Jr. The annual award for service to the city was begun that year by the Cosmopolitan Club of Suffolk. When the club disbanded in the 1990s, the Suffolk Rotary Club stepped in to fill the gap. Past winners have included Chris Jones, Betsy Brothers, Curtis Milteer, Andy Damiani, Dana Dickens, Ross Boone, Whitney Saunders, Sue Woodward, Sam Glasscock and Mills Godwin.

Naismith likes to say that he has had three careers in his lifetime. After he finished college, he served 15 years as an officer on a U.S. Navy destroyer, learning Spanish along the way and working in defense intelligence. That career rolled into nine years at the National Security Agency.

However, he and his first wife, now deceased, wanted to move to Suffolk for a slower pace of life. They came here, and Naismith worked for his father-in-law’s farm equipment dealership. He gradually became more involved in the community, serving on the board of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy as he worked at the dealership.

However, Naismith was asked to step to the helm of the academy during a vacancy. The “temporary fill-in” position turned into a 16-year permanent position, during which time Naismith grew the enrollment and established several important committees.

Though he has a doctoral degree in business, the job didn’t require much of him in the classroom.

“That job is largely a job of leadership, management and fundraising, rather than pedagogy,” Naismith said.

Since retiring, Naismith has become active on the boards of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts and Obici Health Care Foundation. He also participates in the Suffolk Sister Cities organization, as well as Citizens for the Preservation of Obici House. He is a past president of the Suffolk Rotary Club and is involved in Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community.

Naismith is a member and former music director at Oakland Christian Church, and also formerly directed music at Suffolk Christian Church.

“Music has been a part of my life,” he said, “but my hobby is painting and drawing.”

Though he is officially retired, Naismith continues to work just as much as before, people who work with him daily said.

“He’s somebody who’s probably deserved it before, and I was glad to see that he got it,” said Robert House, current president of the Suffolk Rotary Club. “He’s always been a go-to guy. I think he’s always been a great guy for the city of Suffolk.”

Naismith’s contributions at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy continue to affect the school, five years after his departure.

“Doug Naismith was as perfect a leader as we could have had,” said Pat House, who taught French and Latin at the school for 29 years. “He was interested in every aspect of the school.”

Pat House said Naismith established committees on technology, values and multicultural diversity, which have been important for the development of the school.

“He was not just an administrator,” Pat House said. “He’s a true Renaissance man. He’s interested in academics, he’s an artist, he’s a musician, and he truly believes in educating the whole child from all of those aspects.”

A fellow SCCA board member said Naismith’s background helps him devise solutions to problems.

“He has a vast analytical background,” Robert Stephens said. “What that does is allows him to take a situation and devise a method that creates results.”

While some people can only conceptualize a solution to a problem, Naismith has the ability to craft a solution, build a consensus and put it into motion, Stephens said. The two serve together on the development committee, and Naismith is a co-chair of a subcommittee in charge of fundraising.

“Particularly on the development committee, I know that when Doug was selected as the chair of the subcommittee, it would move forward,” Stephens said. “No questions asked.”

Stephens also praised Naismith’s level of commitment to everything he does.

“His commitment is always there,” Stephens said, summing up Naismith’s success on the SCCA board. “He’s a consensus builder, he’s a great organizer, he’s very analytical, he’s very methodical, he’s results oriented.”

Naismith called the most rewarding thing he has ever done in his employment career being the head of school at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy.

“That’s the job that matched my skills and abilities the best,” he said.

The two boards he is currently serving, Obici Health Care Foundation and the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, are the most rewarding things in his volunteer career.

“They both add tremendously to the quality of life in our city, and are capable of changing people’s lives for the better,” Naismith said.

As for why he continues to lend his services to the community, the answer is easy.

“I was brought up to feel that everyone who was able should contribute in some way to their community,” Naismith said. “If you had something to offer, there was an obligation to do so.”

Suffolk has “tremendous potential,” Naismith said, and he believes it takes leaders in the community to help it realize its potential.

“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I always believe things will turn out for the better, but it doesn’t happen by itself. It takes people who are willing to work hard to make it happen.”

Naismith and his wife, Mary Jane, have five children and 10 grandchildren between them.