The Day – Notably Norwich: From civil rights to sports activities, it’s time to applaud excellent residents
Towards the end of Black History Month, I am reminded that my former hometown has been blessed with the many, many prominent and accomplished Black citizens who have made such a positive impact on our lives in Norwich.
It is fair to say that members of the Norwich black population have a significant impact locally, statewide, and even nationally in a variety of sectors, from education and social services to politics and the arts, to social services and civil rights.
Some, like Virginia Christian, the first elected black councilor in east Connecticut, made their name more than half a century ago, paving the way for people like Jacqueline Caron, who years later would serve several terms on the council.
The effects of the folk artist Ellis Ruley, whose gift was only really appreciated after his suspicious death in 1959, goes back even further and will be felt for many years to come if his stature continues to flourish.
Others like young Myles Bradley, a fellow in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who excelled academically and on the right track and trained at Norwich Free Academy, Stanford University, and the Yale School of Management, are emerging corporate superstars. I was privileged to have Bradley as a colleague from 2009 to 2012 when we both worked at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.
It was also a privilege to work with Lee-Ann Gomes, Director of Human Resources for Norwich, who worked with me as a member of the Board of Trustees of Three Rivers Community College. Gome’s dedication, compassion and relentless work ethic have improved the lives of thousands of people in the city’s ethnic melting pot.
I remember the thrill we had when we saw the great Jim Euell win the state track and cross country meetups were seemingly easy. He ended his brilliant running career at NFA in fourth place in the country in the mile run with a time of 4: 10.1.
As long-time president, Dr. Grace Jones of Three Rivers Community College has gone through a period of significant growth and change on a great new campus on the New London Turnpike.
Dan Jenkins, the first African American lieutenant in the Norwich Police Department, was a well-known and respected police officer in the community and a wonderful role model for young people of all races.
My old friend, Luis “Lou” DePina, has immeasurably enhanced the quality of Norwich’s life during his remarkable 25-year career as the city’s recreational director. Lew Randall and Don Scott were both good enough to pursue professional sports (baseball for Randall; soccer for Scott) in the 1950s after graduating from the NFA, but both opted for long, prestigious careers in education administration instead.
Jacqueline Owens, affectionately known as “Mother Owens,” brought the NAACP local branch to national prominence during her 30-year tenure as President.
And Army Sgt. Robert Louis Howard, another top athlete at NFA, died a hero in the 1969 Vietnam War. Years later, his son Robert II, who was only 4 years old when his father died, would be excluded from his own trip to Vietnam.
There are many others who have had successful careers and given a lot to their community. I originally intended to recognize as many of them as I could remember, but there are so many that a single column would not do them justice.
So I’m going to focus on the person who has served the community longest and best, with grace, humility, substance and determination, not just within the black community but for all of Norwich: the woman everyone knows and loves, Lottie Scott.
She came to Norwich from a farm in Longtown, SC, in 1957, where she was born and raised. That year she fled an unhappy marriage and settled with her son in what she would later call “the promised land.” Longtown’s loss was Norwich’s gain.
Scott quickly established himself as a respected social and civil rights attorney in and around her new hometown. She later served as president of the local NAACP chapter and spent 22 years in a love affair with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. She was a brazen, apologetic, and relentless civil rights force, but her ministry was not one-dimensional.
Scott was later not only a member of the William W. Backus Hospital Board of Directors, but also its chairman. She is a lifelong member of the Norwich Historical Society and a member of the Norwich Sachem Fund Committee. She has served in the Norwich Rotary Club for decades and received the prestigious Paul Harris Fellowship Award for longstanding and distinguished service. It is Rotary’s highest honor.
She received the WEB Dubois Lifetime Achievement Award from the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP offices.
In 1993, the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce was named Scott Citizen of the Year. The award brought her into the society of respected leaders in government, law, banking, business, education, and religion. However, if you did speak to any of the other award winners, they would tell you that it was their privilege to be in their company.
In 2017, Scott received the Liberty Bank’s Willard McRae Community Award.
“In selecting an awardee, we’re not just looking for people who have spent their time working for nonprofits, but people who are committed to providing opportunity for all,” said Chandler Howard, president of Liberty Bank he presented the award to Scott. The specified criteria for the award match them at a discount.
The award associated with the award of $ 5,000 was awarded by her. She directed the division of the award between the Robertsine Duncan Chapter of the NAACP, the Ellis Walter Ruley Committee, and the Norwich Arts Council. For them, it’s all about roundness and diversity.
More recently, Scott wrote a book about her early life. Entitled “Deep South – Deep North: A Family Journey,” it is a heartbreaking yet inspiring story of growing up poor in the racially charged South, where she did grueling agricultural work and suffered domestic trauma before making the difficult decision to go to their southern hometown and start a new life in Norwich.
We can lament the struggles of her early life but celebrate that they were part of a larger overall plan that helped her decide to move to Norwich. So many individuals and the entire community have benefited from her wisdom, grace, and energy.