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Against all odds, still the most wonderful time of the year
SoVaNow.com / December 20, 2012I was all ready to settle down Monday night and get a jump on this week’s column 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.
While there may come a time when I’ll want to join the debate over the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting 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 print). 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 the community’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 actual 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 Good Samaritan to the Main Street United Methodist food pantry to Serving Hope to the LCAAA Meals on Wheels program to Hunters for the Hungry, and through the churches and clubs and ordinary people who provide meals to their less-fortunate neighbors, the work of angels is being done on a regular basis throughout the community. Your examples inspire.
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 to themselves 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 many thanks — not only from the beneficiaries of their aid, but from their friends, neighbors and customers here at home.
3) Ginger Weaver. The redoubtable former director of the local chapter of the American Red Cross has transitioned to a regional position, although darn if I’ve been able to tell any difference with the change in titles. Weaver is seemingly everywhere that trouble lurks; the Caped Crusader is as a slacker by comparison. With the Red Cross, Weaver has spent her long career offering aid, counsel and a caring hand to individuals and families displaced by fire or disaster; it is impossible to measure the amount of comfort she has provided to members of the community, but it’s been a ton. Next time you see a town or city somewhere on TV that’s been knocked flat on its back by a disaster, give thanks for people like Weaver and organizations like the Red Cross. I’m sure a monetary donation would be appreciated, too. All of the above applies to our county first responders, too. Save a kind word for their good work the next time you bump into a member of local fire departments or rescue squads — the vast majority of them volunteer — or law-enforcement officers. And try to stay safe this holiday season so that the encounter, should it happen, isn’t taking place under duress.
4) Gatha Richardson. I first got to know him as a fourth grader when he was my principal at Sinai Elementary School — the urge to call him “Mr. Richardson” has never entirely faded — and no one need question which of us got the most out of the exchange. But I suspect this is true of most young people who have come into Richardson’s orbit. In his retirement years, my old principal became a founder of the Mentor Role Model program, which has been around for years yet remains one of the community’s most effective outreach programs for young people. The idea, of course, is to pair up adult mentors with youngsters who could use a buddy, a source of wise counsel to turn to, even an inspiring figure in their lives. In the wake of the Connecticut school massacre, we as a country will debate what should be done to stop future tragedies, what measures we can enshrine in law to protect lives. As well we should. But programs such as Mentor Role Model exist in the here and now, and they can have an enormous positive influence on young people wrestling with emotions of loneliness and despair. In this and so many other ways, including his charitable work for the Salvation Army, Richardson has set an example we all should seek to emulate.
5) Larry Clark. Another retired school leader makes our list. Regardless of what you may think about the policy direction that Halifax County schools took under the leadership of former superintendent Paul Stapleton and Clark, his right-hand man, this much should be said: No one has served the cause of education in Halifax County longer, or more loyally, than Larry Clark. Before hanging it up this year, Clark had served as a teacher, principal and administrator within the system, and he possesses an institutional knowledge of the schools that is equaled by few if any. From integration to consolidation to renovation and reformation, Clark has seen it all. Plus he looks like someone who might get carded at a movie theater or bar. Neat trick for someone well north of the introductory age for AARP membership.
6) Halifax County-South Boston Animal Control. Todd Moser and crew are the winners in this year’s good government category. There are lots of praiseworthy aspects to the Animal Control department — from the staff’s diligence in responding to the calls that roll in whenever a bear roams down the street or a cat gets stuck in a tree, to the commendable operation of the Sinai animal pound, to the innovative use of social media to get the word out about strays in need of adoption — but what really distinguishes these folks is their dedication to making the world a less cruel place for animals. In short, they care — a trait worthy of honor in any context. Moser himself must be one of the hardest-working persons on the Halifax County payroll, and the same no doubt holds true for many others at Animal Control. Pet owners in Halifax County have friends in local government, and not every community can say as much.
7) Roanoke River Rails to Trails Inc. I never tire in saying this: The Tobacco Heritage Trail, of which short segments have already been built 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 paths. Here’s hoping for similar progress soon in lengthening South Boston’s segment, which begins at the Cotton Mill park and runs along the Dan River past Berry Hill Resort. Kudos to the Roanoke River trails group (Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy is a key member) and the Southside Planning District Commission, which has done much of the grant-writing grunt work, for getting the trail started. The project gives new meaning to the phrase “righteous path.”
8) Virginia Lt. Governor Bill Bolling. I was planning to exclude the politicians from my do-good list, figuring the spotlight would be better cast on less renowned figures (you might arrive at the same decision for different reasons), 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. (As an aside, State Senator Mark Herring of Fairfax, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Attorney General in 2013, also this week announced his opposition to uranium mining). 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 upcoming gubernatorial race, having been squeezed out on the Republican side by the party’s horrendous and extreme standard-bearer, Ken Cuccinelli. Will Bolling give it a run as an independent? Is there any chance he could win? I wouldn’t begin to hazard a guess on any of these points, but I will offer one piece of advice: Never say never. I generally support Democratic candidates because I honestly feel the party’s agenda, on the whole, is a better choice 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 a viable candidate in my mind. A lot would have to happen for this paper to endorse an independent candidate for governor, but who knows. Stay tuned. The new year promises to be an interesting one, but until such time arrives, we offer this: To our readers, advertisers, friends and everyone else, our fondest wishes for a Merry Christmas.