Pride of Middlesex
|by Mary Wakefield Buxton|
The Middlesex Rotary Club was a brand new civic group in the county in the mid-1990s when it first organized its annual Pride of Middlesex award dinner. Since then, the Middlesex volunteer rescue squads and fire departments, Hands Across Middlesex (Jack Fackler), and citizens Louise Gray, Sherman Holmes, Ruth Barr, Tom Hardin, Joe Fears and Charles Bristow have been so honored.
This year’s big night is this Saturday, April 18, at 6:30 p.m. at Cameron Dining Hall at Christchurch School. All tickets are sold.
I can’t think of an event in this county that has done more for our self image and native pride. It brings us together, “come-heres” and “born-heres,” and it is a night of pure fun, with usually extremely funny speeches (especially if Jimmy Pitts is going to give a talk!). I have never attended this event without leaving the dining hall with a great sense of joy that I live here.
Funds raised from the event are given to charities. In this way Rotary helps many deserving, dedicated and hard-working groups made up of volunteers who give their time and effort to make this world a better place.
The Middlesex Rotary Club deserves great credit for the good it has done in developing this award. It is a mammoth task and Rotarians work hard and far beyond the call of duty to sponsor this event each year. Although Rotarians have a tradition of not honoring one of its own for its annual award, being a group that is committed to “service above self,” it is a club that truly deserves the moniker of “Pride of Middlesex.”
I would like to see Pride of Middlesex further expanded as a means of offering to our citizens a “short course” in our county’s thrilling history. Set up a committee to do research, perhaps with the help of county historians such as Larry Chowning and Pat Perkinson, to compile exceptional citizens from our past and find a way to honor them even though they may be long deceased.
Such a plan would help teach everyone, simply by looking at the list of past Middlesex leaders, our extraordinary heritage and history. The list should contain names of Native American chieftains who lived in the area, certainly the explorer Captain John Smith and other Colonial leaders who lived here, and such a list could march right up through the last century to connect to the present list of leaders.
Names quickly come to mind that should be placed on such a historical plaque. General “Chesty” Puller; Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Lewis Puller and William Styron, both Christchurch School graduates; Syd Thrift, a native who made it big in baseball; and surely Lee Weber, our pioneer who was the first woman elected to the Middlesex County Board of Supervisors and even served as chairman.
I would also add the Baptist preacher John Waller, who went to jail for preaching in Colonial times without a license from the Anglican Church (a brick from the old Urbanna jailhouse is part of the Urbanna Baptist Church’s foundation), and that plucky African-American woman from Gloucester, Irene Morgan, who was arrested in Saluda years before the Rosa Parks case for not moving to the back of the bus.
And what about the Middlesex County Clerk of the Court who managed to hide our court records and save them from the marauding Yankees who savagely burned our courthouse?
Oh, I am excited just sitting here at my computer and thinking about compiling such a list of great names from our past! It would be a huge project for Rotary; to go back into the history of this county and pull out the names of our exceptional citizens and put their names on a plaque to hang at the Middlesex Courthouse with their present plaque. But our Rotary Club exists to do community projects, and it may very well be work that could be spread out over several years. And what a gift it would be to Middlesex, not only for us, but for future generations.
In the meantime, first things first. Let us now prepare to celebrate the Norris sisters for all their good works to our area. I hope to see you this Saturday night at Christchurch School.