Duke named First Citizen

Published 10:20 pm Thursday, August 18, 2016

Lydia Duke thought she was about to make a sale on Wednesday when the phone rang and a familiar customer’s voice was on the other end of the line.

Instead, the auto dealership owner learned she had just been named Suffolk First Citizen by the Suffolk and North Suffolk Rotary clubs.



“In no way was I ever expecting anything like that,” said Duke, who didn’t even know she had been nominated by one of her employees. “I just can’t believe this.”

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Duke is originally from Mississippi but moved to Suffolk when she fell in love with a Suffolk boy, Ray Eley Duke Jr. She taught remedial reading and second grade at Andrew J. Brown Elementary School, but stopped teaching to raise her two children.

She re-entered the workforce in 1984 and worked for the city of Suffolk for several years. But when her husband was diagnosed with brain cancer and died in 1989, she fulfilled a promise she had made to him by going into business with his father at Duke Oldsmobile-Cadillac Corp.

The dealership has grown throughout the years, has been named a Buick Best in Class Dealer for four years and has received numerous customer satisfaction and sales awards. Duke is one of only 234 women serving as General Motors dealers — about 5 percent of the total GM dealers in the United States.

“The automotive industry suffers from a tarnished reputation of deception and dishonesty, but never, for one moment, has Lydia allowed her name, her family name, or the reputations of the Duke team members to be sullied by deceptive practices,” wrote Priscilla Taylor, who nominated Duke.

“The so-called ‘gray area’ in business is foreign to her. There is only right and wrong, and she does not stray from her high standards.”

Duke has also made her mark in community service away from the dealership. She is a past chairperson of the board of directors for Paul D. Camp Community College, served on the board of directors for Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of South Hampton Roads, served on the Southern Bank Advisory Board for Hampton Roads, served on Obici Hospital’s Ethics Board, and supported numerous local charities and school programs.

She has been a member of the Suffolk Rotary Club for 20 years and a member of Main Street United Methodist Church for 44 years. She also cares for her second husband, Bill Hevener, who has Parkinson’s disease.

“Throughout her years in Suffolk — and particularly during her years at Duke — she has made her mark in ways she never imagined,” Taylor wrote.

“She is the unique face of a long-term family business in a male-dominated industry. She has become respected within the community as a woman of wisdom and principle. She has been the steadfast rock for her business and her family.”

Duke said Thursday it was just starting to sink in that she will receive the Suffolk First Citizen honor.

“I was numb, and I’m beginning to thaw out,” she said. “I’ve been so fortunate to have good people around me at work and family and friends and two good husbands. I am a very, very rich lady by friends, people who help me and continue to help me.”

Duke joins a list of distinguished honorees that included, last year, Suffolk native and real estate agent Billy Chorey Sr. Others include the now late Robert W. “Bobby” Harrell Jr., Dr. R. Leroy Howell Sr., M. Caroline Martin, former state Sen. Fred Quayle, Douglas Naismith, Delegate Chris Jones, Betsy Brothers, Ross Boone, attorney Whitney Saunders, longtime Councilman Curtis R. Milteer Sr., historian Sue Woodward, former mayor E. Dana Dickens III and others.

Duke will be honored during a reception on Sept. 29. Reservations for the event will be available soon at www.suffolkrotary.org.