Birdsong receives leadership award

Published 10:18 pm Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Suffolk resident, businessman and philanthropist George Birdsong was recently honored for his philanthropic and community work by the CIVIC Leadership Institute.

More than 550 guests were in attendance at the Nov. 15 event at the Peter G. Decker Jr. Half Moone Center in Norfolk to see Birdsong awarded the Individual Darden Award for Regional Leadership.

“I was surprised, because I think it’s the first time anyone in the Suffolk area had received the award,” Birdsong said of learning he would receive the award. “I appreciate the recognition, although I’m not sure it’s deserved. It’s a pretty high honor, because it covers all of Hampton Roads.”

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Birdsong and his wife, Sue, along with the family business, Birdsong Peanuts, and the Birdsong Foundation, are heavily involved in philanthropy in Suffolk, throughout the region and even worldwide.

Birdsong was the first chairman of the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority after helping it get off the ground in 1971. He has also been involved with the Obici Healthcare Foundation, United Way, YMCA, Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts and Nansemond-Suffolk Academy.

Regionally, he is active in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Business Consortium for the Arts, ForKids, Virginia Wesleyan College and the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges.

The Birdsongs have also helped fund trial studies at the Virginia Beach retirement community Westminster-Canterbury to help people with dementia.

Perhaps Birdsong’s most worldwide work has been the development of a program to get a peanut product, called “Ready to Use Therapeutic Food,” to malnourished people, particularly children, around the globe. The peanut paste is easily transportable to out-of-the-way areas and is relatively inexpensive compared to other forms of treatment for severe malnutrition.

Birdsong has worked with Dr. Mark Manary in Malawi to increase production and distribution of the peanut paste throughout Africa, according to the Birdsong Peanuts website.

“It’s been very successful in helping malnourished people, particularly children, regain their health,” Birdsong said.

The Darden Award for Regional Leadership is named for CIVIC Leadership Institute’s founder, the late Joshua P. Darden Jr.

Cathy Lewis, president and chief executive officer of the CIVIC Leadership Institute, said Birdsong was an excellent selection for the award.

“George Birdsong epitomizes the spirit of our founder, Josh Darden,” Lewis said. “He is not only successful in his business pursuits, he is transformative in his philanthropic and community work.  His influence extends beyond Suffolk and Hampton Roads to the entire world.

“His colleagues in community service have tremendous respect for what he’s accomplished through collaborative integrity-centered leadership,” Lewis continued. “So much that is good about Suffolk has George Birdsong’s name on it, and he shares the credit for that with his wife, Sue, whom he credits with raising their three children while he was doing good works in the community.”

Also at the event, Dollar Tree was presented with the Corporate Darden Award for Regional Leadership.