Harrell named 2014 First Citizen

Published 9:48 pm Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bobby Harrell was driving home from a Richmond meeting when he got the call that he has been named the Suffolk and North Suffolk Rotary clubs’ First Citizen for 2014.

“I didn’t run off the road, but I was surprised,” he said. “I was surprised and humbled. I didn’t know what to say.”

Harrell joins an exclusive and respected group that includes former governors, state senators and delegates, mayors and councilmen, pastors and doctors, businessmen and lawyers, and community servants of all stripes. The award has been given every year, save for a brief hiatus, since 1956, when it was started by the Cosmopolitan Club. The club disbanded in 1999, but the Suffolk Rotary Club took it up in 2003.


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Harrell’s most visible and most recent contribution to Suffolk was spearheading the Physical Education and Health Building opened by the Salvation Army last year. His participation in that project was so important that the building was named after him — another surprise Harrell said humbled him.

“It was really a community effort, and a lot of people besides me participated,” he said. “Nobody accomplishes anything by themselves.”

But his community service and humanitarianism goes far beyond the Salvation Army. He currently sits on the boards for the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center, Hampton Roads Technology Council and Portsmouth Museums, as well as the Salvation Army. In the past he has been on the boards for Virginia State Board of Community Colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, Hampton Roads Clean Cities Coalition, Bank of America Entrepreneurial Center at ODU, Business Technology Center at the College of William and Mary, Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center at Old Dominion University and more.

He was co-founder of the Suffolk Ruritan Club, which has donated more than $1.2 million in scholarships and to charities and organizations since its founding. He also was a founding member of the Suffolk Racquet Club and a youth league softball and basketball coach.

In the political arena, he has served on the city and state Democratic committees, as well as the Fourth District Committee, and was chairman for the House of Delegates and Senate districts.

With his wife Monette, he also wrote “The Ham Book,” which is sold at several venues around town. He has traveled on trade missions, served on Gov. Gerald Baliles’ transition team in 1985 and sat on numerous advisory committees for various efforts.

He now co-chairs the Rural Virginia Initiative with former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. The organization helps rural residents obtain their GEDs or stay in school.

The list of his many accomplishments could go on, but Harrell says it’s not all his doing.

“I’ve worked with an awful lot of good people in all the things I’ve had the opportunity to do in Suffolk and elsewhere,” he said.

A reception honoring Harrell will be given April 17 at 6 p.m. at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. Proceeds from the sale of tickets, $35 each, will go toward community and charitable projects.

Tickets to the event can be obtained from any Suffolk or North Suffolk Rotarian.