Albert Metcalfe named The Natchez Democrat’s 2015 Citizen of the Year
NATCHEZ — Except for the time he left for college, Albert Metcalfe has spent his life in Natchez.
But through his dedicated work to the Rotary International Foundation — which funds cultural exchange programs and the fight to eradicate polio — Metcalfe has helped nearly a dozen people study abroad and two-dozen other locals experience cultures overseas. He’s taken a message of unity through service to five countries himself.
At home, he’s been a dedicated member of his community, serving where needed in his church, with charities and on the board of a local bank.
For those reasons, Metcalfe has been chosen as The Natchez Democrat’s 2015 citizen of the year.
Metcalfe was born in Natchez in 1932. He left town to attend Swathmore College in Pennsylvania, but returned after receiving a Bachelor of Arts in liberal arts and went into business with his father at Jordan Auto, a Chevrolet dealership which was located at the corner of what is now Lynda Lee and D’Evereux drives.
He and his wife Gay married in 1959, meeting in Natchez even though she was from Pennsylvania. They would eventually have three children, Debbie Aiken, Albert Jr. and Susan Ray.
But throughout stages of his life, there was a thread connecting Metcalfe to the community through service above self — the Rotary Club. A third generation member of the club, Metcalfe started attending meetings when he was just a boy.
“I always felt some measure of importance when dad would invite me to come to the meetings with him,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of the community, and it made me feel like I was.”
Those boyhood feelings of importance translated into action in 1957, when he was formally inducted into the club. While some may think of it as just another civic organization, for Metcalfe it was much more.
“Rotary has been a consuming passion for Albert,” said Bazile Lanneau, his nephew. “His greatest passion has been the Rotary Foundation, which is responsible for the Rotary (ambassadorial) scholars program.”
The Rotary ambassadorial program sponsors overseas studies for scholars, and at least 11 Natchez-area residents have studied in areas such as Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Ireland and Scotland. Serving on the foundation meant Metcalfe helped vet the applicants for the program.
“He was instrumental in getting several of those scholarships awarded to kids in the Natchez area,” said Forest Persons, who — along with Metcalfe — was one of three Natchezians to serve as district governor for Rotary District 6820. “A lot of people don’t realize that the Rotary scholarship is actually more monetarily valuable than the Rhodes scholarship, and it is the most international scholarship you can get.”
While working with the Rotary Foundation, Metcalfe also worked with the club’s global study exchange program, in which Rotarians — and non-Rotarians — visit another part of the world to learn about the culture there. The area being visited by the U.S. delegation in turn sends visitors to the district in the United States. At least 23 Natchez-area Rotarians have been able to participate in the exchange.
And through that program, Metcalfe likewise has helped bring visitors from around the world to experience Natchez, often hosting them in his own home.
“We always had couples staying here in our home, and sometimes we would entertain (the entire group),” Gay Metcalfe said. “Our children grew up with people from other countries periodically staying in our house. He felt like through Rotary people would come together, and we always had a place, a room for people to be here.”
Meeting people was always a key element in his support of the scholarship and exchange programs, Metcalfe said.
“I like young people, I like meeting them, and I like to encourage them to improve their station in life,” he said.
Metcalfe was a participant in one exchange himself — to St. Petersburg, Russia — and has attended Rotary International conventions in Germany, Mexico, Switzerland and Australia.
But Rotary wasn’t just an organization through which Metcalfe could score travel and educational sponsorships for locals.
“Albert attended Rotary like he attended church — every week,” said Nancy Hungerford, a 26-year Rotarian. “Until very recently, he had perfect attendance from the time he joined.”
That perfect attendance lasted for a 57-year streak. If he wasn’t in Natchez on a given Wednesday, he would do a make up at the closest local Rotary club.
He likewise pushed members to become Paul Harris fellows, a designation given to those who have donated $1,000 to the Rotary Foundation.
“He is a multiple Paul Harris fellow — he did one for his wife, his children and now his grandchildren,” Hungerford said. “He has helped sustain the Rotary program by encouraging members to give to the foundation, and he is never too aggressive or obtuse about it, but he never misses an opportunity to invite people to Rotary or give money.”
While some long-time members of any organization might resist change, Metcalfe was one who embraced it when it was good.
“He has been a great supporter of me in Rotary, because I was one of the first women to come into Rotary when they decided to allow women to join,” Hungerford said. “That represented a great sea-change for a lot of people, but Albert was open to that and welcomed me warmly, and was a fan of my efforts to integrate myself into Rotary. He is a class act and a loyal friend.”
Outside of the Rotary Club, Metcalfe has served on the board of the former B&K Bank, was a long-time elder at First Presbyterian Church and served on the board of the Salvation Army.
“He was active in Red Cross swimming instruction as a younger man,” Lanneau said. “He was an avid swimmer and loved to dive, and encouraged all of our family members to learn how to swim and dive, even when we were somewhat afraid of getting off the board.”
Metcalfe and Gay moved into The Parsonage, his family home, following his parents’ death, and kept the house — one of the original homes on tour during Pilgrimage — open until recent years, when his health no longer allowed it.
In his youth, Metcalfe was an Eagle Scout and never stopped supporting the Boy Scouts.
“He was very supportive of the scouting movement,” Persons said. “He made sure his son was an Eagle Scout, and when the young folks would get their promotions, he would always be there.”
A common thread weaved through everything in which Metcalfe has been involved, Gay Metcalfe said.
“They are all trying to make the community a better place, giving projects to improve people and helping people try to learn how to be with other people,” she said.
And that, Albert said, sums him up. One of Rotary’s sayings is that one profits best who serves others, and Albert feels he’s profited from the experiences through the years.
“I enjoy people,” he said.
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