Hometown Legends

Amedeo Obici (1877 - 1947)

The story of Amedeo Obici (Ah-may-day-o O-bee-chee) is one born of an Italian immigrant’s hard work and ambition. At the time of his death, his company, the Planters Nut and Chocolate Company, had become a known brand worldwide, but its beginning was owed to the hard work and ambition of the young Obici.

Amedeo Voltejo Obici was born in the small town of Oderzo, Italy, near Venice, to Pietro Lodovico Obici and Luigia Carolina Sartor Obici. His father died unexpectedly when he was seven years old, a tragic event that forced his mother to sell the family business. It was Luigia’s brother, Vittorio Sartor, who suggested that young Amedeo come to live with him in Scranton, PA. At age 11, Amedeo boarded a steamer bound for America. He spoke no English, and upon arriving in New York City, instructions tied to his overcoat said he was to go to his uncle’s house.

Amedeo Obici’s new life started in Scranton, where he learned English during night school and worked during the day to save money for his family’s passage to America. His various jobs included working at a cigar factory, a fruit stand, as a hotel bellhop, and eventually for a local politician. Here he befriended a fellow Italian immigrant, Mario Peruzzi, who would become his future business partner. It is said that while working at the fruit stand he noticed the popularity of peanuts as a snack.

In 1895, seven years after his arrival, he had saved enough money to bring his mother and two siblings over. He used the rest of his savings to purchase his own fruit stand and a peanut roaster. He developed a new way to blanch the nuts, taking away the hulls and skins, and dubbing himself “The Peanut Specialist”, started peddling peanuts by horse and wagon.

In 1906 Amedeo convinced his friend Mario Peruzzi to join him in forming Planters Peanut Company in Scranton. His future was now firmly entrenched with the peanut, and two years later the company was incorporated as Planters Nut and Chocolate Company. The peanut and candy business quickly proved a great success for the two Italian Americans.

While keeping company headquarters in Scranton, the manufacturing side of Planters moved to Suffolk, Virginia in 1913. The move cut out the middlemen and put the company in the heart of the area from which most of their peanuts were bought. It was also in Suffolk where the infamous Mr. Peanut was born. The enduring character was created by 13-year old Antonio Gentile, who entered his drawing in a logo contest sponsored by Obici. A company artist then refined the drawing, adding the monocle, cane and top hat.

Amedeo Obici married Louise Musante in Scranton and the couple permanently moved to Suffolk around 1920. In 1924 they purchased the Bay Point Farms estate, where they relocated, remodeled and expanded an 1870s farmhouse and raised dairy cows.

The Obicis became generous neighbors in their new hometown. Although the couple could not have children of their own, they often held events at Bay Point Farms for local children. Civic groups and the military were invited for visits to their home, and a clubhouse was built on their estate to be used by Planters’ employees for their recreation.

After his wife’s death in 1938, Amedeo decided to build a hospital in her name as a lasting legacy. He died in 1947, and in 1951 Louise Obici Memorial Hospital was built from a trust funded by Amedeo Obici. Money from the trust benefited both the hospital and the Suffolk community over the next half a century, and was one of two sources that funded the Obici Healthcare Foundation. Amedeo Obici was one of the area’s most important philanthropists, a man who came to his new homeland with nothing, built a successful business, and generously shared his success with his Suffolk neighbors.


Governor Mills E. Godwin (1914-1999)

The only Governor elected twice by popular vote, General Assembly and as Lieutenant Governor. An attorney from Nansemond County (now the City of Suffolk), Godwin instituted the first sales tax in Virginia during his first administration to invest in a newly-created Community College system. During his second term, Governor Godwin guided the revision of the State Constitution, reinstated the death penalty and reorganized the penal system. Riddick's Folly House Museum has a permanent exhibit on display dedicated to the life and career of Governor Godwin.


Charlie Byrd (1925-1999)

Charlie Byrd was born in Suffolk and raised in the northern community of Chuckatuck. Inspired by local musicians who congregated at his father's general store, Byrd began studying the guitar at age 10. What originated as a hobby evolved into high school dance performances and eventually into an impressive collection of more than 100 albums.

Byrd enrolled at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1942 in an accelerated war-time program, playing in the University's renowned Southern Colonels orchestra. During World War II, he served in the Army, first as an infantryman and then in the Special Services division entertaining troops. While stationed in France, he discovered a love for jazz and later returned to the United States to study jazz theory and composition at Harnett National Music School in New York. In the 1950's, Byrd became interested in classical music, playing with noted artists Andres Segovia and Sophocles Papas. Recording music for the U.S. Department of Agriculture films in the late 1950's led Byrd to South America in 1961 on a State Department Tour. Byrd's Brazilian experience inspired him to merge the bossa nova sounds of South America with his jazz stylings, creating a signature style critics referred to as delicate and precise.

Charlie Byrd is best remembered for the work he did with Stan Getz, and for his work with Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel, as The Great Guitars. The significance of those two associations sometimes obscures the remarkably innovative work he did in the late 1950’s and 1960’s with his trio. Although Laurindo Almeida preceded him in the use of the concert guitar in a jazz setting, Byrd’s style and technique seemed a perfect fit for jazz. He brought to the concert guitar both a high degree of sophistication due to his classical training and a kind of down home quality that came through when he played blues and straight ahead jazz. It was said he could play a Bach Cantata with the same ease as a Gershwin song, but he delivered each in its own unique way.


Hope Spivey (1971 - )

Suffolk native Hope Spivey competed in gymnastics on the national and international level for 11 years, capping her career as a member of the U. S. Olympic team that finished 4th in the 1988 Games. Additionally, she had an outstanding career at the University of Georgia from 1991-94 when the Bulldogs won four Southeastern Conference championships. In 1991, she was named the top collegiate gymnast in the U. S. after finishing first in the all-around, vault and floor exercises. In a 10-year span, she earned 27 perfect scores of 10. Spivey was a member of the U. S. gymnastic teams that won the Pan-American Games championship in 1987. In college, she was an 11-time All-American and 5-time national champion.


LaSallie "Sallie" Corbell Pickett (1843-1931)

Chuckatuck native, LaSalle Pickett outlived her husband, General George E. Pickett, by five decades, spending much of her widowhood as an author and lecturer on the Civil War. Though their life together lasted only twelve years, LaSalle her life writing and speaking about her husband and his military career. Appointing herself Pickett's official biographer, she became a self-proclaimed authority on the war and the Old South. On March 21, 1998, LaSalle Corbell Pickett was reburied next to her husband's monument at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA.


Judith Godwin (1930 - )

Suffolk's own, Judith Godwin, is a renowned artist who's Abstract Expressionism has won her critical acclaim. Godwin attended Mary Baldwin College from 1948-1950, exhibited in the Irene Leache Memorial show in 1951 (winning the "most popular in the show" award), attended Richmond Professional Institute, College of William and Mary from 1951-1952, attended the Art Students League, New York in 1953... Godwin's paintings are found in numerous public and private collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, The Yale University Gallery, The Art Institute of Chicago and The Hirshhorn Museum.

Color and Movement: Paintings by Judith Godwin I am apprehensive when writing about my work. Painting is a non-verbal medium to which I have devoted most of a lifetime. As a child I drew and painted and was exposed to a great deal of architecture and to gardening. Throughout my school and college years, art classes were of utmost importance. My advanced study with Hans Hofmann in New York and Provincetown enabled me to share with students from all over the world their admiration and enthusiasm for the vitality and expanding consciousness of modern art. My way of working is as natural and personal to me as my feeling for gardening. I usually stretch and prime my own canvas. This is, to me, part of my craft. I most often begin to paint by envisioning form and space in nature and then interpret my ideas and feelings into planes of color on the canvas. When I recognize an emerging form, I respond intuitively by evolving complimentary sub-forms in colors and applications which feel supportive and foster development. In studying color and its behavior, I have learned to trust my intuition. I have a strong belief in my work and pursue it constantly. How my paintings will appear to others is not a concern while I am working. Neither do I intellectualize about a work. I prefer to leave a canvas unfinished for an extended period rather than make instant revisions, which could remove those elusive centers of directness and spontaneity for which I have striven. I would hope that viewers of my work, being innately sensitive to color and movement, would respond to some of the excitement, subtlety, discovery and idealism I have experienced in the best of my work.


Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, Jr. (1907-1998)

An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Powell was known as a master of compromise and consensus building. Born in Suffolk, he attended Washington and Lee University, earning both an undergraduate and a law degree. He attended Harvard Law School for a master's degree. During World War II, he spent more than three years in Europe and North Africa. He started as a First Lieutenant, but rose to the rank of Colonel. He worked mostly in intelligence, decoding German messages. Upon Powell's passing, President Bill Clinton said, "Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the death of Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., one of our most thoughtful and conscientious Justices. For over 15 years on the Supreme Court, he approached each case without an ideological agenda, carefully applying the Constitution, the law, and Supreme Court precedent regardless of his own personal views about the case ... Justice Powell was an admirable public servant..."


Michela English

Michela English retired in June 2005 after more than three terms as a member of Virginia's Sweet Briar College (SBC) Board of Directors. Under English's leadership, new Master of Arts in Education and Teaching degrees were instituted, along with the nation's first Engineering Programs at a women's college. Additionally, an environmental sciences department was established, as well as, bachelor's degrees in fine arts and business management. English, a Suffolk native describes her career path as "episodic" rather than planned, with early stints as a social worker and federal employee after earning a bachelor's in international affairs at Sweet Briar. In 1979 she earned a master's from Yale School of Management. In 1996, Michela English was named president of Discovery Enterprises Worldwide. She was responsible for directing the company's existing brand, including extension businesses Discovery Channel Video, Discovery Channel Multimedia, Discovery Channel Online, Discovery Channel Publishing and Discovery Channel Education as well as Discovery's consumer products licensing program. In June 1997, English also assumed responsibility for Discovery Channel Retail, including Discovery Channel Stores and The Nature Company. English has also served as senior vice president of the National Geographic Society, where she was responsible for book publishing, Traveler magazine, World magazine for children, educational media and international publishing. Since 2002, English has served as a Director with Gladstone Management, financial investment advisors in McLean, Virginia.


Bobby Norfleet (1958 - )

Bobby Norfleet calls Suffolk his hometown but is truly home on the race track. Norfleet owns and operates a racing team that is slated to compete in NASCAR's 2006 Busch and Nextel Cup Series, the premier auto racing competition in North America. Most recently, the FUBU Collection has signed on to become a major sponsor of the team in a multi-year partnership. The team will operate out of their racing facilities in Mooresville, North Carolina.


Della H. Raney (1912 - )

Della H. Raney was born in Suffolk, Virginia, January 10, 1912. A graduate of the Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing in Durham, NC, Raney was the first African-American nurse commissioned as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (ANC) during World War II.


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