Local heroes awarded for service

Published 10:54 pm Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Suffolk Democratic Committee honored phenomenal locals at its 10th annual Community Heroes Luncheon held on May 5 at the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront. Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Rep. Bobby Scott and others gathered to recognize the three individuals for their wonderful contributions to Suffolk.

“These are people who find a need in the community, identify that need and make it their business to pull the resources to fill that need,” said Leslie Rinaldi, Suffolk Democratic Committee Chair. “This is our way of reaching out to those people to thank them for being citizens.”

The honorees were Marion Flood, Mary Haddad and Robin Whitley.

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Marion Flood is part of the Virginia Retired Teachers Association and vice president of the Nansemond-Suffolk branch of the NAACP. The former Baltimore educator received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Baltimore in 1975 and is expected to earn her Master of Arts degree in mental health from Norfolk State University this December.

Since 2009, she’s organized and designed summer camps for children, tutored children from kindergarten to fifth grade in her home and taught literacy classes at Western Tidewater Regional Jail for the Suffolk Literacy Council.

She also spent years encouraging Whaleyville citizens to rally for the renovation, remodeling and refurbishing of the former Robertson Elementary School into the Whaleyville Community Center that opened its doors in 2015.

“I think it’s best to understand the people that you’re living with and serving, to get to know the desires of community members and to support them,” she said. “I think it’s really important when coming into a community to get the feel of that community and then move forward.”

Mary Haddad is president and co-founder of the Louis and Mary Haddad Foundation, which has developed and supported education projects for at-risk students since 1999. She serves on boards for Virginia Wesleyan College and the Suffolk Foundation and is a member of Old Dominion University’s Women’s Initiative Network.

Community Action Coalition of Suffolk co-founder Bob Stephens presented the award to Doug Naismith on Haddad’s behalf, as she was out of the country during the ceremony.

“Mrs. Haddad clearly exemplifies the ideals and principals embraced by the Suffolk community and certainly those of the Suffolk Democratic Committee,” Stephens told the audience, adding that “she has had a direct and significant impact on many students’ lives.”

Robin Whitley is the social action chairperson of Delta Sigma Theta Inc.’s Suffolk chapter. Her volunteerism has supported causes throughout the city from Relay for Life to the Genieve Shelter. She has served the city in the Department of Public Works for more than 23 years while building a reputation in supporting literacy, the arts, veterans and above all else political activism.

“I was very excited to get my driver’s license at 16, and I was equally excited to get my voter registration card at 18,” Whitley said.

She said she was humbled, because this was her first time receiving an award like this.

“I just do what I do,” she said. “I don’t do anything to receive awards. I was just honored that someone thought enough of me to nominate me for something like this.”

She remembered her parents’ fight for desegregation in Wilmington, Del., where she grew up. Her father, a Korean War veteran, taught her how to support her community with an open heart.

“He told me that a closed fist can never receive,” Whitley said. “If you don’t open your hand to give your time and talent — that gift that God has given you — then you can never receive the blessings that God has for you.”

The annual ceremony isn’t just meant to give praise but also to set an example for others, according to Fairfax.

“Today is an example of the light that you are shedding forth here in Suffolk, and that light is being seen, felt and heard all throughout this region, all throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia and I believe, ultimately, around the country,” he said.

“You do not do it for awards, as Robin said, but you deserve them,” he continued. “You deserve to be lifted up, because when we lift up your example, we then have an example for us to follow.”