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Tuesday, October 1, 2013
There’s an important deadline looming for a distinction of which you might not even be aware. It’s the annual Virginian of the Year Award bestowed by the Virginia Press Association.
Nominations from VPA members are due Nov. 1, and the purpose of this column is to seek suggestions from you readers.
The roster of past winners dates to 1967 and is studded with celebrities. Those include musicians Roy Clark, Bruce Hornsby, Ralph Stanley and the Statler Brothers; authors David Balducci, William Styron and Patricia Cornwell; journalists Roger Mudd and James J. Kilpatrick; and politicians such as former Gov. Gerald Baliles and former Sens. Harry F. Byrd Jr., and Hugh Scott. It also includes some titans of industry and NASCAR drivers.
But beginning in 2010, the Virginia Press Association revamped the award. Then VPA Vice President Keith Stickley suggested the focus be steered away from a well-worn list of famous Virginians.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we change this, and take it back to the newspapers?’ ” Stickley told me. They would “nominate people whose good works had changed lives in their communities. It didn’t have to be someone who was famous.”
Thus, the 2013 honoree was Walter Segaloff. He founded An Achievable Dream, a nonprofit organization that partners with the city of Newport News to run two public schools serving some of that city’s poorest and most disadvantaged students. He died of a heart attack in August.
The 2012 Virginian of the Year was Doris Buffett of Fredericksburg. Through her organization, the Sunshine Lady Foundation, she’s donated more than $100 million toward good works in Virginia and beyond. (Full disclosure: she’s the sister of Warren Buffett, CEO of the company that recently bought The Roanoke Times.)
The 2011 winner was the Rev. Dr. Robert Bluford Jr., a Presbyterian pastor who in 1968 founded The Fan Free Clinic in Richmond. Over 45 years it has treated tens of thousands of people who otherwise may not have been able to afford to see a doctor. Bluford also has been a driving force behind efforts to preserve Civil War battlefields and the historic Polegreen Church site in Hanover County.
Since the award’s retooling, there hasn’t been a winner from Western Virginia — though our region has no shortage of people who are worthy of the distinction. At the risk of sounding parochial, that’s why I’m putting the word out to you readers.
Over the next week or so, send me your nominations. Tell me a little bit about the worthy person you’re suggesting. I’ll review those in a subsequent column.
One possibility that immediately leaps to mind is Cabell Brand. The longtime Salem resident, who turned 90 this year, took a family shoe business and turned it into a mail order and direct-marketing empire that later became the Home Shopping Network.
In 1965, Brand founded Total Action Against Poverty, a community service agency that’s helped countless people climb their way out of poverty through education and work force training. In 1987 he founded the Cabell Brand Center for Global Poverty and Resource and Sustainability Studies.
Another is Joy Sylvester-Johnson , CEO of Roanoke’s Rescue Mission, which over decades has ministered to the homeless and addicted. Though the Rescue Mission’s expansion in southeast Roanoke has been a controversial topic in that community, the faith-based nonprofit over the years has helped thousands of people remove the shackles of alcohol and drug addiction.
A third candidate would be Ted Edlich, who assumed the reins of Total Action Against Poverty in 1975, and has run the agency — which is now called Total Action for Progress — since then. He’s presided over it for nearly 40 years.
All three of them are well-known in the Roanoke Valley. But no doubt there are plenty of other unsung candidates out there, too. Which is why I’d like you to suggest some.
So send your suggestions to me.
At the very least, I can help ensure that somebody from our region will be considered for the honor.
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