Monday, July 15Hampton Roads Weekly

Voices From The Garden: Monument to Women in Virginia

Historic Women Leaders from Yesterday

Martha “Pattie” Hicks Buford, (14 March 1836–17 January 1901)
Photo cite: Episcopal Women’s History Project

The Virginia Women’s Monument, named Voices from the Garden, is the nation’s first monument designed to celebrate the remarkable women who made significant, but often unrecognized contributions and accomplishments in a variety of fields and endeavors over the 400-year history of Virginia.  This new monument in Richmond, the first on capitol grounds in the U.S.A, includes bronze statues and 230 names of Virginia Women inscribed on the monument’s glass.  Each issue, Hampton Roads Weekly will feature the story of one of these amazing historical women and pair her with the story of one of our dynamic, contemporary women leaders in Hampton Roads. 

One can easily see the parallels between our contemporary woman leader Suzy Kelly and our historic woman leader from the Voices from the Garden Women’s Monument.  Our historic woman leader, Martha “Pattie” Hicks Buford whose passion for underserved communities and grounded heart in religion beautifully parallels those same strengths as our contemporary woman leader Suzy Kelly, CEO of JoKell Corporation.   

Martha “Pattie” Hicks Buford, (14 March 1836–17 January 1901), was born near Lawrenceville Virginia to Edward Brodnax Hicks, a well-to-do lawyer and landowner, and Elizabeth Stone Hicks, daughter of a former governor of North Carolina. Her mother passed away when she was less than a year old, and thereafter her aunt, Martha Hicks came to live with the family and raised Buford and her siblings. 

Throughout her childhood, Buford’s father was hard on all his children, but he strongly believed in the benefits of a good education.  “Pattie” Hicks attended Saint Mary’s School, an Episcopal institution in Raleigh, North Carolina.

On 24 November 1858, just three days before her father died, Hicks married Francis Emmet Buford, a lawyer, at the home of her sister. A strong-willed woman, she may have married on that date in order to escape the clause in her father’s will that would have required approval from her uncle and brother for her to marry.

The newlywed Bufords built a house called Sherwood on land inherited from her father about a mile south of Lawrenceville, Virginia. They had two daughters and four sons. In 1862 Francis E. Buford became captain of Company G, 3rd Regiment Virginia Light Artillery, a local-defense unit called up to help protect the city of Richmond. After the war he served Brunswick County as Commonwealth’s attorney, judge of the circuit court, and member of the General Assembly.

Sunday School for Freedpeople

Brunswick County experienced dire poverty after 1865, as former slaveholders and newly freed slaves struggled to survive in a weak agricultural economy. One striking evidence of the changed situation after the war for Martha Buford was the shift of the freedpeople into their own churches. Her passion for helping others in their faith extended from her childhood, where she even held a Sunday school for the slave children on her father’s plantation. After the war, many local freedpeople joined the Zion Union Apostolic Church, an independent church in the area. By early in the 1870’s Zion Union counted 2,000 adherents.

In the Spring of 1875 Pattie Buford asked two female members of the church if she might conduct a Sunday school. They agreed, and she discovered her passion for education among the freedpeople and their children, regardless of religious doctrine. 

Charitable Work

Pattie Buford’s advocacy resulted in her receiving regular contributions of money and bundles of clothing and books from a network of supporters throughout the northeast. She sent the best of her students out to teach at the other Zion Union churches.  It is estimated in 1879 that twenty-eight schools and roughly 1,400 children benefited from the donations. With contributions, Buford had also built the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, that also included a school with more than 100 pupils in attendance.   She continued to persevere with the school, despite the fact that the Bishop and Diocese of Virginia would no longer offer their recognition and support. 

Founding a Hospital

Not only was she influential in education, but she also worked in the healthcare field to build a hospital.  In autumn 1881 she appealed to her northern supporters for funds to establish a hospital for African Americans. Those supporters responded generously, and in 1882 the General Assembly of Virginia incorporated the Church Home for Infirm and Disabled Colored People, which opened in October 1883. The continuing expenses of that institution, soon filled with a steady stream of patients, and of her overcrowded school, required Buford to devote much of her time to raising funds for both. 

In March 1891 the hospital unfortunately burned to the ground. During the previous year it had served 53 patients on the premises and provided outpatient care to another 1,012 people. Buford quickly rallied to raise the money for an even larger hospital, which she opened in January 1892. The new three-story building, which still stands today, had a raised basement and eight wards, each containing eight to ten beds. A separate building housed orphaned children, and an adjacent outbuilding provided beds for patients with extremely contagious diseases. In September 1892 Buford reported that the new hospital buildings cost $7,840. Other contributions amounted to $3,340, but the expenses outweighed that total at $5,538. In order to cover the difference, Buford used the surplus from the building fund. The high expenses and the continuing need help to explain the insistent tone of her fundraising letters. Buford often declared that one had only to witness the suffering to feel and act as she did. In 1893 the hospital cared for 81 patients and helped 721 outpatients.

Martha “Pattie” Hicks Buford died in her home on January 17th 1901, following a long bout with illness. She was buried in the family plot at Sherwood. In her will, Buford noted that the hospital and the twenty acres set apart for its work should revert to her estate if it were not back to operating as a hospital for five years. The Buford property did indeed move to her estate. Martha Buford dedicated her entire life to caring for the African Americans of Brunswick County and continued to be courageous in some of the most trying times in history.

Cite: GAY W. Neale,”Martha “Pattie” Hicks buford (1836-1901),” Dictionary of Virginia (1998-), published 2001 (, accessed (sept 18, 2019).

Contemporary Woman Leader of Today: Suzy Kelly

One often wonders in business and in life, what’s the difference in a good leader and a great leader?  What role do core values play in success?  Where does religion and a strong moral compass belong in business?  How can I wade through the many layers of the personalities of my employees to help build on their greatest strengths?  How can we strengthn the connection between our employees and our community?

To answer these profound and important questions, one needs to look no further than Suzy Kelly and her company she so efficiently leads, Jo-Kell in Chesapeake, Virginia.  

These answers are proudly displayed on the entry wall of Jo-Kell’s amazing new corporate headquarters.  These principles so smartly on display, remind everyone associated with Jo-Kell about their important priorities.  

Community:  Our sense of commitment and belonging to our co-workers and to our community-at-large. It is our primary focus to contribute to those in need, those less fortunate, and those who risk their lives for our freedom and security.

Courage:  Our determination to accomplish our vision in the face of adversity. It is important to continue to meet challenges head-on in order to strengthen and grow our organization.

Courtesy:  Our relationships with those within the Jo-Kell organization and our customers, vendors and business partners are critical to our success. Showing respect, dignity, and consideration of others are qualities we value.

Excellence:  Exceeding expectations in everything we do both internally and externally is a common practice in the Jo-Kell culture.

Integrity: Delivering on promises, honesty in communications, and fairness in our business practices are actions which show our company’s true character.

Passion:  Our enthusiasm for the work that we do, the products we offer, and the solutions we deliver create an environment with energy and excitement for the entire Jo-Kell team.

Humor:  Our light-hearted spirit and positive expression reflected in all that we do.

Suzy Kelly and her leadership team at Jo-Kell, led a team of architects and engineers to design and build one of the most cutting-edge corporate headquarters in Virginia.

Established by Joseph Kelly in 1977, Jo-Kell is an electrical distributor and engineered-solutions provider serving the military, commercial marine and industrial markets. While Suzy was pursuing her education in dental hygiene at Old Dominion University, she found herself volunteering a lot of her time to Jo-Kell, and caught what she calls the “business bug”.  Joseph Kelly, Suzy’s soon to be father-in-law, taught Suzy the ins and outs of business which she began to find both fun and challenging and has thrived in it ever since. She and her husband Marty then later took over the leadership of the company and Jo-Kell now employs over 70 people who work in the Jacksonville, Chesapeake, and San Diego locations.   

One of Suzy’s greatest strengths as a leader is her ability to recognize and nurture the best qualities of her employees.  She believes that those who are most successful are always evolving, changing, and embracing the important aspects of their work, personal, and religious life.  

As a Catholic business leader, Suzy begins each morning in prayer. She intentionally prays for her company and carries her faith throughout all of her decision making. Suzy has devoted much of her time and efforts to multiple ministries including her local Catholic Church and Hard as Nails Ministry, a Catholic evangelization ministry for youth around the country based out of Syracuse, New York. Not only does she support these faith-based organizations, Suzy co-founded Catholic Passion Ministries. The purpose of Catholic Passion Ministries is to teach Catholics the truth and beauty of their faith. 

Much of what Suzy does at Jo-Kell is focused on external outreach to the community.  Each year Jo-Kell collects over 6,000 pounds of food during their annual “Jo-Kell Can Do Food Drive”.  Reusable grocery bags are given to customers and vendors to fill with non-perishables and are collected by their sales team or dropped off at the Jo-Kell office.  “Hunger is non-political, and everyone can get involved in this cause,” says Suzy.  Jo-Kell puts on this food drive every fall and they continue to collect food for the Southeast VA Food Bank.  Suzy Kelly is as committed to her employees as she is to her community! 

Not only is Suzy involved in her business and faith, she is also an active member of the Chesapeake community. In 2008, Suzy began her journey in politics. She ran for city council, learning and growing as she went, and appeared to have won her first election, but then it was later revealed that there was an error in precinct counting. After this sudden loss, recognizing her indominable spirit, her supporters rallied to make sure she ran again two years later. With this new set of experiences, Suzy was ready to tackle the challenge of public service and enjoyed serving the people of Chesapeake. This was no claim-to-fame for Suzy as she humbly says that she “enjoyed serving the people of Chesapeake, but not the politics.”

Suzy also serves on the VA Chamber of Commerce because she “loves business and loves helping businesses.”  Getting involved in the Virginian Chamber was of great importance to her, to extend her knowledge of business to help others grow.  As a member of the VA Chamber Board of Directors and Executive Committee the VA Chamber has grown to over 26,000 members!   Serving as Chair of the VA Board in 2018 was an honor and being able to contribute to the Chamber’s growth is what Suzy describes as “truly remarkable.”   

It doesn’t take long to realize that Suzy Kelly possesses the profound and important qualities that make the difference between a good leader and a great leader.  Her fine core values rooted in deep religious belief and her strong moral compass help to produce the very best out of her employees.  Suzy Kelly leads her family, her community, and her business to new and greater accomplishments each and every day.