Congratulations, Caroline

Published 10:59 pm Wednesday, April 18, 2012

During the more than 50 years it has been presented, the Suffolk First Citizen award has kept some distinguished company. Mayors and City Council members, arts supporters and historians, community activists and lawyers have all stepped forward at one time or another to be recognized by the people of Suffolk as being worthy of their praise and accolades.

The thing all of those recipients have in common has been a desire to improve Suffolk and advance the cause of the people who call this city home. Whether by operating some of the city’s most important and successful businesses, by standing up for the rights of the city’s least fortunate, by advocating on behalf of the arts, by representing the city in Richmond or by ensuring Suffolk’s place at the proverbial table in Hampton Roads, each of the past Suffolk First Citizens has made an indelible impression on the city’s history, changing lives in the process.

Perhaps no single person has been more involved in directly changing thousands of lives in Suffolk than this year’s First Citizen, Caroline Martin, who will be honored in a ceremony tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

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As former health system administrator with Riverside, Martin directs much of her community influence to organizations that aim to improve the health of the community. From the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community to the Western Tidewater Free Clinic — both of whose boards of directors benefit from her service — Martin continues to be a fixture in Suffolk’s health community many years after being pinned as a nurse.

Her administrative talents ensured that she would rise far in the world of hospital administration, but they also made her a natural addition to the boards that organize and direct the work of one of the city’s most important health care resources for the uninsured and under-insured. And her broad knowledge of health issues and wide range of community contacts have made her the perfect person to beat the drum on behalf of programs that will result in healthy lifestyles in Suffolk.

Those connections, alone, would have qualified Martin for the honor that she is set to receive tonight. However, she hasn’t limited herself to only health care issues. In recent years, she has been instrumentally involved with Suffolk Sister Cities and the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

More recently, she has worked to launch the Virginia STEAM Academy, a boarding school for high-school students from throughout the state who excel in science, technology, engineering and applied math. Leaders of the project, including Martin, lobbied the General Assembly this winter for planning money to explore the idea further. They hope to make it a reality in 2014.

Caroline Martin is exactly the kind of person Suffolk should honor as its First Citizen. Her unflagging energy, her great compassion and her love for her adopted hometown all make her a wonderful ambassador for the city and a great source of hope for those who benefit from the hard work she does.

Congratulations, Caroline.