District governor visits West Point Rotary Club

Published 10:30 am Saturday, January 13, 2024

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WEST POINT — During the noon hour on Thursday, the West Point Rotary Club hosted a visit from District Governor Andre’ Hadley Marria of Thomasville, Georgia.  A graduate of Fort Valley State University, Marria has spent most of her life helping other people. She took a leadership role in a big family when young, earned her way through college and has been a counselor with the Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR), for nearly 35 years. She has a special interest in improving the lives of children and helping those who are struggling with their mental health. In 2008, she retired as director of the Thomas County Department of Family & Children’s Services. She is a licensed therapist and a published author.

She was accompanied to the meeting by her husband of 50 years, Rev. Walter Marria. “This is a beautiful day, and we had a wonderful three-hour drive to get to West Point,” she told members of the club. “South Georgia is known for its pine trees, live oak trees and dirt roads. It’s God’s country to those of us who live there.”

Marria said it had been her passion for more than 40 years now to create hope in the world. She fully embraces Rotary’s vision: “Together, we see a world where people unite and take action creating lasting change across the globe, in our communities and in ourselves.”

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Next to God, husband Walter has been the anchor in her life for 50 years now. “When I was a young woman I wanted to go to New York City and to be a singer in a nightclub,” she said. “Walter changed all that. I became a minister’s wife have never regretted it.”

She didn’t become the nightclub singer, but she still has a beautiful singing voice. She treated club members to a bit of it by singing solo versions of “The Greatest Love” (well known versions by George Benson and Whitney Houston) and “No Man is an Island,” based on the John Donne poem. Her singing drew much applause from the club members.

“It took someone who believed in me to find that voice,” she said. “It came in my life when I had been written off as a loser. Singing changed my life for the better.”

She encouraged members of the club to work on building membership, to see themselves as members of a team and to have a vibrant spirit of the club and its role in the community. She said that Rotarians everywhere should be proud of the club’s involvement in trying to eradicate polio worldwide. “We are 99 percent there,” she said. “For every dollar we raise toward this the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will contribute two dollars toward this goal.”

Marria said she appreciates Rotary’s support of diversity, equity and inclusion, often referred to as DEI. “We have 29 new businesses in Thomasville because of DEI,” she said. “It’s not what you have in life, but it’s what you do with what you have that counts. I believe that civic clubs need to reflect the local community. Each club needs to have some diversity.”

Marria said the 69 Rotary Clubs in Georgia should be promoting a public image, expanding their reach, enhance participant engagement, and to increase its ability to adapt.

Marria has been a Rotarian since 2005 when she joined the club in Thomasville. She has served as president of that club. In 2018-19 she received the Sheffield Leadership Award. She’s a Paul Harris Fellow, a Paul Harris Society member, a Major Donor Level II, a Will Watt Fellow, Thomas Fellow and Jake Cheatham Fellow. In 2023, she was one of six members recognized by Rotary International President Jennifer Jones as a Person of Action: Champions of Inclusion.

In 2016 she received the John C. Burns III Licensed Professional Counselors Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her nearly 35-year career in counseling. Her proudest accomplishment was to have served as a Ground Zero Red Cross Disaster mental health first responder in New York City in 2001.