Harrell honored as First Citizen

Published 10:06 pm Wednesday, September 27, 2017

John Harrell was presented as Suffolk’s First Citizen 2017 before a crowd of hundreds at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts on Tuesday evening.

Harrell, the chairman of the board and treasurer at his family business, Suffolk Iron Works, received the award following a video presentation in the theater. The crowd then retired to the ballroom for Harrell-inspired heavy hors d’oeuvres that paid tribute to his favorite hobby, duck hunting.

The annual award is presented by the Suffolk and North Suffolk Rotary clubs.

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A humble Harrell spoke about what he called the assets and gems of Suffolk in which he played a part.

“I never thought about what I did as community service,” he said.

Harrell was on the board at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy for 10 years and was chair of the building committee for eight years.

“NSA is an asset to our community,” he said. When he served on the Industrial Development Authority — now known as the Economic Development Authority — they would tout the academy to potential companies looking to invest in the city.

“We held up NSA as one of the gems that we have in our community,” he said.

Also among his work was the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront and Suffolk Conference Center, which was an IDA project.

Harrell also mentioned the Suffolk Family YMCA, which came about with the assistance of the Birdsong Trust Fund, where he sits on the board. The trust purchased several contiguous parcels of land for the YMCA to be built.

“We kept trying to get a YMCA in Suffolk,” he said. “We started kind of escrowing some money.”

In an amazing turn of events, the parcels needed came up for sale around the same time at great prices.

“We were doing something Suffolk needed,” Harrell said.

“We have a lot of wonderful things in Suffolk, and I’ve been involved in some of them,” Harrell said. “I’m honored to be here.”

Harrell is a native of Suffolk and 1957 graduate of Suffolk High School. He started working at the family business, Suffolk Iron Works, at the age of 14. After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, he joined his father in the family business, which has now been in operation for more than 100 years.

Harrell especially took time to honor his family on Tuesday. He is married to Mary Lawrence Harrell and has a son, Clifton, daughter, Mary Marshall, and five grandchildren.

“The thing I’m most proud of in the entire world is my family,” he said. “They are wonderful, and they are the gem of my life.”

Proceeds from the event and other Rotary fundraisers support a wide variety of local, regional, national and global organizations, including Rise Against Hunger, Operation Smile, Polio Plus, the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, Western Tidewater Free Clinic, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Suffolk Literary Council, Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad, Edmarc, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Nansemond River High School Future Business Leaders of America, Communities in Schools, the Roc Solid Foundation, Nansemond River Preservation Alliance, Izaak Walton League of America and Suffolk Family YMCA.