Looking for Suffolk’s best

Published 7:41 pm Monday, January 24, 2011

We’ve all heard the saying that goes something like this: It’s best to sing someone’s praises while they’re alive to enjoy it, rather than wait until their funeral to say nice things about them.

That’s why, if you know someone who’s doing great things in and for the community, you should nominate them for the Suffolk and North Suffolk Rotary Clubs’ 2011 First Citizen award.

The First Citizen award has been given every year since 1956, except for a hiatus from 1999 to 2003. The Cosmopolitan Club initially started giving the award in 1956, but ended in ’99 when the club disbanded. In 2003, the Suffolk Rotary Club picked up the tradition and continued it. The North Suffolk Rotary Club joined in the selection and presentation for the first time last year, when the recipient was community leader and former Nansemond-Suffolk Academy headmaster Dr. Doug Naismith.

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There’s a long list of local treasures who have been recipients in previous years, including Delegate S. Chris Jones; Betsy Brothers, who was active in renovating Suffolk High School as the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts; community activist W. Ross Boone, attorney Whitney Saunders; longtime City Councilman Curtis Milteer; historian Sue Woodward; former mayor E. Dana Dickens; business owner George Birdsong; longtime General Assembly member Sam Glasscock; dentist Dr. George Barnett; former mayor Andy Damiani; and former Governor Mills E. Godwin Jr.

Last year, I had the opportunity to do an article on Dr. Naismith and to cover the award ceremony. I also did an article on Delegate Jones’ award the year before.

In my interviews with both men, I learned so many wonderful things about them besides what most people know them for — the organizations they quietly volunteer for behind the scenes; the huge acts of generosity they’ve bestowed upon fellow citizens; and their love for helping Suffolk grow and prosper.

Before my interview with Dr. Naismith, for example, I already knew about his job at the helm of NSA and his distinguished military career.

I didn’t know, however, about all his volunteerism at a bevy of local organizations, or his love for music.

I was a little better informed going into my interview with Delegate Jones. I knew about his service as a member of the House of Delegates, his extraordinary assistance with the Genieve Shelter, his involvement after the April 2008 tornado and even that he regularly meets customers in the middle of the night at his pharmacy to fill urgently needed prescriptions.

However, having worked in Suffolk only since 2006, I didn’t know about Jones’ careful consideration of issues at City Council meetings during his tenure on that body — or that he came to his first council meeting in tennis shoes.

If you know a Suffolk citizen that exemplifies service as well as these two men — or any other personality on the list — download a nomination form from www.suffolkrotary.org and submit it.