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Against all odds, still the most wonderful time of the year

SoVaNow.com / December 19, 2012
I was all ready to settle down Monday night and get a jump on my writing for this week’s edition when my wife and 11-year-old daughter fired up the VCR in another room and popped in an old copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (Oh the things Dr. Seuss would have thunk about Blu-Ray). How could a self-respecting husband and dad pass up such a moment? I couldn’t, so I set aside the household laptop long enough to join the giggling Grinchettes on the living room sofa. Sitting through 22 minutes of bliss does help to soften the column-writing grind.

It’s nearly Christmas, as good a time as any to leave behind the world’s cares and enjoy the company of loved ones. And although the horrors of the past week have made it tougher to do, this is also a time to reflect on the goodness of so many of our neighbors and compatriots. The Newtown massacre has brought forth a bitter feast of anguish and pain, and while there may come a time when I’ll want to join the fray and debate the recriminations of this terrible tragedy, at the moment I find myself without the heart for it.

Instead, today’s installment aims for something else entirely: a rumination on the good deeds of ordinary people who deserve their moment in the sun (and a shout-out in The Sun). Singling out individuals and organizations for their contributions is, of course, a fool’s errand. You can never mention all those who are worthy of recognition, nor do justice to the labors and sacrifices of the few who do come under the spotlight. But you have to start somewhere. Looking back over the year, there have been innumerable people who’ve bettered our civic life; here are a few names and causes that rattle around conspicuously in the mind:

1) Food bank volunteers. Let it be said at the outset that I couldn’t, if pressed, so much as identify all of Mecklenburg’s various food banks and food pantries, to say nothing of naming their legions of volunteers, so apologies in advance for leading off our holiday honor list with an entry that cites no individuals. But you know who you are. You do so much to make the world a less forbidding place for those lacking the most basic human need — sustenance — and your efforts are deeply appreciated. From The Bread Box in South Hill to Project Care-for in Clarksville to the LCAAA Meals on Wheels program to church and club food banks and ordinary people providing meals to their less-fortunate neighbors, the work of angels is being done on a regular basis throughout the community. Your example inspires.

2) Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative linemen. After Hurricane Sandy devastated Northeastern communities, the employees and management of the Chase City-based electric cooperative answered the call for help, at no small cost in terms of personal effort and sacrifice. Local utility workers rushed to New Jersey to restore power to customers of Jersey Central Power & Light, filling a desperate need for personnel with the skills to get the region back on its feet. The diligent efforts of MEC linemen eased the hardship of Jersey residents in untold ways, and they deserve abundant thanks — not only from the beneficiaries of their aid, but from those of us here at home.

3) Bill and Sylvia Solari. The Lake Gaston couple set the tone for what has proven to be an enormously successful capital campaign for CMH by donating $1 million toward the hospital’s new radiation therapy center — big money in anyone’s book. Once again, the list of notables involved in the $6 million CMH fund-raising drive is too long to repeat in full, although certainly Palmer Springs’ own Rick Hendrick, he of NASCAR fame and a $2 million family matching donation, and Denny and Cathy Hardee, capital committee co-chairs, merit special attention. The Solaris’ 2011 gift gave the capital campaign instant credibility and is appropriately memorialized with the naming of the new Solari Radiation Therapy Center. (The Hendrick Cancer and Rehab Center, renamed in the Hendrick family’s honor, is an equally deserved acknowledgement.) Lest anyone lose sight of the importance of the CMH effort, consider that Mecklenburg County suffers from an unusually high number of cancer deaths. This finding in the most recent Department of Health community profile will come as no surprise to anyone who has been touched personally by the scourge of the disease, which is to say most of us; the expanded CMH cancer treatment program, in cooperation with VCU Massey Cancer Center in Richmond, offers hope for a better future.

4. Dr. Charles Lee. Officials in local government tend not to get due credit in the pages of the local newspaper, least of all from me, but only the severest critic could have looked at how interim Clarksville Town Manager Charles Lee handled his duties this year and not come away impressed. Lee took over as town manager after the departure of Melinda Moran and immediately brought a standard of professionalism to Town Hall that has been lacking for a long, long time. In particular, Dr. Lee, a retired university president, has taken great care to emphasize transparency, collegiality and accountability in conducting town business. (It should be remembered that he took office just as the Clarksville fiscal-year budget was coming due, a difficult assignment for any newcomer, even one as practiced as Dr. Lee, to handle.) I don’t think every decision the town has made under Lee’s guidance will turn out to be golden — moving the Clarksville Police Department into a used modular building, for instance, seems especially unlikely to wear well over time. On the other hand, Clarksville over the past year has worked through several knotty issues, including a boundary adjustment conflict with the county that had languished for the past decade. The deal on annexation reached by the county and town isn’t perfect, but it’s a huge improvement from Clarksville’s wildly overambitious original plan. On the heels of Dr. Lee’s brief tenure, the town is better positioned to move forward than at any time in recent memory.

5) James Fowlkes and the football coaching staff at Bluestone High School. Athletics is hardly the sine qua non of the educational mission, and football probably receives more attention than it should, but if a high school offers a program it should strive to do it well, and Bluestone football up till now has pretty much been a dictionary entry under the word “fail.” That is, until Coach Fowlkes and his team of assistants — Waverly Jackson, David Crowder, Jesse Chropka, Ben Webb and David Hale — took charge. Under Fowlkes’ tutelage, the Barons finished the season with a 3-7 record, which may not sound like much of an accomplishment until one considers the misery (including a 51-game losing streak) that preceded the Barons’ first win of the season on Sept. 14 against Rappahannock. Later on the Barons scored their first victories as members of the James River District, beating Randolph-Henry and Cumberland, and they gave other teams, including Virginia Group A champion Goochland, a pretty stiff fight. (Bluestone lost to Goochland 29-0 after trailing only 13-0 at the half; the Bulldogs won the state title game 41-14 over Essex). More important than the results on the field, however, is the job that Fowlkes et al did to instill pride and a sense of dedication among Bluestone student-athletes. This is the sort of thing that does go to the heart of the educational mission, and the coaching staff’s success in reviving a moribund program should be recognized in this light.

6) The Mecklenburg County Business Education Partnership. Just to keep up the educational emphasis for a bit, the MCBEP earns a place on our list for deeds specific — recently landing a $4,500 Verizon Foundation grant for the Bluestone robotics program, for instance — and general, the most important being its consistent advocacy for greater local education funding. It matters when business leaders step up to support the schools, and the Partnership has been at it for a long time here in Mecklenburg County. Longtime mainstays of the endeavor, including Richard Walker and Bettie Duckworth, have given way to a new generation of officers who include Chris Bailey, Gina Mull, Glenn Burney and director Gina Lawrimore. Long may they keep their shoulders to the wheel.

(A footnote: The Bluestone Robotics program lost one of its longstanding champions, Rocky English, this year at the age of 67. Captain English was typical of many of the amazing retirees who settle in our area, having captained two Navy nuclear submarines during his long career in the service. A robotics scholarship has been created in his name; contributions can be made to the Rocky English Memorial / Bluestone Robotics Fund, c/o Benchmark Bank, P.O. Box 1824, Clarksville, Va. 23927).

7. Roanoke River Rails to Trails, Inc. I never tire in saying this: The Tobacco Heritage Trail, of which short segments have already taken form in La Crosse, Lawrenceville and South Boston, will be a tremendous asset for our part of southern Virginia. Even with mere snippets in place, the trail provides a welcome and much-needed recreational venue — and the best is yet to come, with construction soon of a 17-mile stretch linking the existing La Crosse and Lawrenceville sections. With the trail soon to reach the 20-continuous-mile threshold (more or less), can Southside Virginia’s first marathon be far behind? For this wonderful addition to the local landscape, you can thank the Roanoke River trails group, chaired by Sandra Tanner of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Southside Planning District Commission, which has done much of the grant-writing grunt work. The trail gives new meaning to the phrase “righteous path.”

8. Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. I was going to keep the politicians off my do-good list, figuring the spotlight would be better cast on less renowned figures (you might think of different reasons to take the same approach), but then Lt. Governor Bolling did something remarkable this week: he traveled to Danville to announce his opposition to lifting Virginia’s ban on uranium mining. Wow. People always complain politicians are too busy blowing in the wind to stand up straight, but that’s exactly what Bolling did in becoming the first statewide elected official to take a clear and unequivocal position against mining. He proved himself to be a friend of Southside in the doing.

How much will Bolling’s endorsement for keeping the moratorium in place matter when the General Assembly takes up the issue in January? I’m inclined to believe his voice will count for a lot, although we’ll see. In the meantime, of course, Bolling remains at the center of speculation in the 2013 gubernatorial race, having been squeezed out on the Republican side by the party’s truly hideous standard bearer, Ken Cuccinelli. Will Bolling run as an independent? Could he possibly win? I wouldn’t begin to hazard a guess on any of these questions, but I will say this much: Never say never. I generally support Democratic candidates because I honestly feel the party’s agenda, on the whole, is good for the country, but I’m not about to give Terry McAuliffe, the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial candidate, a free pass should he go squishy on the uranium mining issue. As a possible alternative, Bolling is more than viable in my mind. A lot would have to transpire for this paper to endorse the independent, but who knows? Stay tuned.

It promises to be an interesting new year, but until such time, we offer this: To our readers, advertisers, friends and everyone else, our fondest wishes for a Merry Christmas.















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