By Michael Campbell News Editor
DINWIDDIE – February serves as a time when the contributions, influences, and achievements of African-American are recognized and honored during Black History Month and, in Dinwiddie, the month took on special meaning as a trio of Dinwiddie residents were publicly honored for their own accomplishment during a special event last week.
During their regular meeting, County Administrator Kevin Massengill had the honor of presenting awards to Doretha Moody, Dr. Marguerita Ragsdale and Thomas Hooker during the county’s third annual Black History program, which was also attended by United States Congressman Donald McEachin (D, VA-04), who reached out to the county in an effort to be part of last Tuesday’s activities.
First to be recognized by the county was Doretha Edwards, a former county board member and operator of a home for adults with special needs in the community.
The DeWitt native graduated from Southside High School, which was the only high school in the county for black students before attending Richard Bland College and Virginia State University. Moody worked in the private sector at the start of her working life, serving as an insurance agent and the only black agent in the company and the only woman in their Petersburg office.
Moody then transitioned to the Southside Virginia Training Center where she spent three decades before retiring as supervisor of the human service care workers unit. She went on to become the authorized legal representative for three residents of the center, “which is evidence of her dedication and commitment to helping others,” Massengill said of Moody.
After leaving SVTC, Moody worked for the United States Postal Service, where she was the first black woman to service as Officer in Charge of the post office in her hometown, a position she held for three years.
Moody was also elected to the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors in 2004, where she served two terms, which included two appointments to the chairman position. She also served as a member of the Crater Planning District and served as chair of their board twice, along with a number of other local boards and commissions, the Dinwiddie Task Force on Gang Prevention and the Tri-Cities Metropolitan Planning Organization.
In 2011, Moody was awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award from the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and in 2008 received a Trailblazer Award from the Petersburg Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
The county then recognized McKenney native and longtime United States Foreign Service member Dr. Marguerita Ragsdale, who has a decorated background with stints of international service as an American diplomat over the past 30 years.
Dr. Ragsdale’s 30-year career with the United States Foreign Service included early tours of duty as Consular Officer in Kuwait, Political Officer in Mogadishu, Somalia, Liaison Officer for Oman and the United Arab Emirates, and the Secretary of State’s Crisis Watch Officer at Department of State headquarters in Washington, D.C. Later, as second in command at the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, she directed staff and tracked political, economic and commercial trends in Qatar and the Arabian Peninsula region.
After taking part in the Department of State’s premier executive and leadership training program, Dr. Ragsdale served as Deputy Director of the Office of Arabian Peninsula Affairs at State, and then Chief of the Political Section at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, where she was a member of the Ambassador’s Policy Advisory Group.
After completing those assignments, she was asked to join the team that would re-open the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan after its lengthy closure for security reasons. As second in command in Khartoum, Dr. Ragsdale was principal policy and executive advisor to the Chief of Mission and, in his absence, was Head of Mission.
In 2003, President George W. Bush nominated Dr. Ragsdale to become U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti. Following Senate confirmation, she completed her term in Djibouti, leading a mission heavily focused on counter-terrorism in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, on economic development and cooperation with Djibouti, and on developing in Djibouti the sole U.S. military base in Africa, named Camp Lemonier.
A staff of 20 U.S. Government personnel and 118 local hires assisted Dr. Ragsdale’s efforts. When she returned to Washington after her ambassadorship, she helped lead the Department of State’s efforts to plan and execute U.S. arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament policies.
In 2007, Dr. Ragsdale led the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Disarmament Commission and in 2009, served as Deputy Head of the U.S. delegation to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee meeting in New York.
In her last position before retiring in 2013, she was asked to lead a team of officers in a new unit at the Department of State focused on developing coherence and direction for U.S. engagement with the United Nations and regional organizations.
Dr. Ragsdale, who currently resides in the nation’s capital, has been the recipient of numerous awards for the superior performance of her duties and she was given the Government of Djibouti’s highest honor – Commander of the Order of June 27 – for her tireless efforts to promote close ties between the country and the United States.
She is currently in the process of working on a memoir of her 30-year career and continues to support the artistic programs of two professional ballet companies in the Washington D.C. area, all while pursuing her passion in collecting American antiques, which is often displays at the Antique Center at Historic Savage Mill in Savage, Maryland.
Even though she currently lives in Washington, D.C. Dr. Ragsdale continues to support various land, agricultural and forestry management programs in Dinwiddie and takes part in county-sponsored events when possible in an effort to give back to her community.
In honor of her accomplishments and continued dedication to the community of McKenney and Dinwiddie as a whole, her hometown named “Marguerita D. Ragsdale Street” in her honor.
The third and final honoree was longtime Dinwiddie educator Thomas Hooker, who has spent years helping the citizens of the county, both inside and outside the classroom.
The Shaw University graduate and youngest of seven children began his teaching career in Surry, where he taught health and physical education and coached basketball and baseball at L.P. Jackson High School until 1965 when he came to Dinwiddie.
Hooker taught similar courses at Southside High School, the county’s only high school for African-American students at the time and, when schools integrated in 1970, Hooker remained at the school that was eventually renamed Dinwiddie County Junior High School.
He would later go on to earn his Master’s Degree of Education in Supervision and Administration and became assistant principal of the junior high school.
“For 20 years, Thomas Hooker was an educator in Dinwiddie County,” Massengill said of Hooker to the audience. ”During this time he touched the lives and made an impact on countless students, of all races and ethnic backgrounds, and their families.”
In the mid-1980s, Hooker left the county to work in neighboring Prince George and their school division, where he was named assistant superintendent of schools and remained in that position until his retirement.
He continues to serve on a number of boards and commissions, including the county’s youth commission, airport authority, social services board, industrial development authority, and a number of others.
Hooker is also a member of the St. Stephens Lodge #247, 32nd Degree where he serves as Treasurer. He is a member of the Virginia Birdies Golf Club and The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated.
He is a member and serves on the Board of Trustees Ministry of Olive Branch Baptist Church, where his pastor is Reverend Dr. Kevin Northam.
Following the county’s recognitions and several rounds of applause for the honorees, Congressman McEachin presented the trio with congressional certificates, a symbol of thanks on behalf of the United States Congress for their outstanding service to Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District.
“First and foremost, I feel that as the representative for the 4th Congressional District it is important for me to attend and engage with constituents at the various events held throughout the district. My constituents are my top priority in this role,” McEachin remarked. “The opportunity to honor leaders in our communities always deserves time and attention; the opportunity to honor African American leaders during African American History Month is no exception. It was an honor to attend the event in Dinwiddie and meet some of the great individuals who positively impact our community every day.”
Those thoughts were echoed by members of the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors as the event came to a close.
“When you look at the people that we have honored over the past three years,” remarked Supervisor Daniel Lee, “What they have had to overcome and had to live through and to have a positive outlook on life and do the contributions that they have done is really admirable.”
“I am so proud of Dinwiddie for having February and honoring our black heroes,” Supervisor Brenda Ebron-Bonner said. “It is a wonderful thing in the county. I just look forward to many, many more of these events to acknowledge so many more people for their sacrifice and commitment.”
In years past, Dinwiddie and the county board of supervisors honored Jesse Blackwell, Jr. Pauline Bonner, Ed Bracey, Yvonne Myrick, Geraldine Spicely, Elnora Perry, Rev. Herbert Anderson, Gloria Jones and former Sheriff Samuel Shands for their individual contributions to the community and abroad in the three-year history of the program.
Copyright 2016 by Womack Publications