Ghee’s service honored

Published 2:15 pm Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Prince Edward County Branch of the NAACP celebrated its president, James Edward Ghee Jr., during its annual Freedom Fund Banquet on Saturday at the Firemen’s Sports Arena in Farmville.

Ghee was honored for his significant, lasting and ongoing contributions to the NAACP, the legal profession, the religious community, the political community and his family.

“It was wonderful that my home folk saw enough of what I had done to say they wanted to thank me, and I’m on cloud nine as a result thereof,” Ghee said.

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(To see more photos from the banquet, click here.)

Speaking to what he has meant to the NAACP were Prince Edward County Branch Vice President Dr. Wendy Lyle-Jones and former Nottoway County Branch President Arlene Robertson.

Read aloud were written remarks sent by Virginia State Conference President Linda Thomas and Chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors Leon Russell.

Ghee serves in a variety of roles for the NAACP in addition to being the Prince Edward Branch president. He is also chair of Area 5 of the Virginia State Conference. Area 5 covers nine counties, including Appomattox, Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Goochland, Lunenburg, Nottoway, Powhatan and Prince Edward. He is on both the executive committee and the convention committee of the Virginia State Conference, and he serves as parliamentarian for the national board of directors of the NAACP.

Lyle-Jones, who helped organize the banquet, was pleased with how it went.

“I think it was a beautiful event,” she said, later estimating that 125 people attended. “As long as he’s happy, if he approved, then it was a beautiful event.”

According the biography included in the banquet program, Ghee graduated in 1972 from the University of Virginia Law School with a Juris Doctor degree and in 1975, chose to return to Farmville to open his own law office, becoming the first African-American attorney in Prince Edward County. He has been involved in the general practice of law in the county for 42 years.

Prince Edward County Bar Association President Khalif Latif and Virginia Legal Aid Society Director David Neumeyer spoke to Ghee’s impact on the legal profession.

“He is the dean in the legal community, serves in various capacities,” Latif said after the banquet. “He is a wealth of knowledge on the … law itself, very aggressive advocate, gifted negotiator and from time to time even in my career, Mr. Ghee has, as I said earlier, taught me how to be a country lawyer — make it be about the people and not necessarily about the fight, about the end result in regards to the best interests of the people. He’s a great man, he really is. And it’s wonderful for things like this to occur when someone’s living rather than at a funeral somewhere.”

Latif’s comment about the timing of the celebration echoed how Ghee opened his remarks near the end of the banquet.

“It’s certainly great to be able to smell your flowers while you’re still living,” Ghee said to the crowd.

Highlighting Ghee’s impact on the religious community were Pastor James Ashton, of First Baptist Church on South Main Street, and Jasmine Foeman.

As the biography states, Ghee is a devout member of the Beulah African Methodist Episcopal Church on South Main Street. He serves as clerk and Sunday school superintendent and enjoys teaching the adult Sunday School class.

Foeman said she knows Ghee through the church.

“He is like a father figure to me,” she said after the banquet. “… He’s the reason I still go to Beulah. He’s made me feel like I’m a member of his family.”

Ashton said, “I guess I can essentially say that he’s been a mover and shaker in this community for many, many years, having endured hardships himself.”

Ghee was out of school for the 1959-60 and 1960-61 school years due to the public school closings that were part of Virginia’s Massive Resistance Movement in 1959, as detailed in the program biography.

“He was not turned off from what he suffered but rather turned on to the good work that needed to be done,” Ashton said. “He’s been a Christian soldier. He’s been a lifter up of people, and so now it’s our turn just to say, ‘Thank you.’”

Ghee has been quite active politically. The program biography noted that he served a term on the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors, was involved in the Fifth Congressional
District Black Voters League and was their candidate for Virginia Attorney General in 1981.

“He has been a delegate to three national Democratic conventions in 1980, 1984 and 1988,” the biography reads. “He has successfully managed campaigns for local offices to include sheriff, commonwealth attorney, commissioner of revenue, treasurer and clerk of the circuit court.”

Speaking Saturday to Ghee’s impact on the political community was Prince Edward County Sheriff Wesley Reed.

“Mr. Ghee, for the political community, is a mastermind,” Reed said after the banquet. “He knows how to organize, and if you follow his lead, it’s proven to be very, very effective.”

Charmayne Morrison gave insight into what Ghee has meant to his own family, as did Ghee’s daughters, Abbey and Ivey Ghee, who served as the mistresses of ceremony.

Music at the event was provided by the Longwood Jazz Ensemble and Ghee’s nephew, Dr. Matthew D. Morrison.

Carl Eggleston delivered remarks in praise of Ghee and presented him with a plaque shortly before Ghee took the stage to give a brief speech.

Ghee began by introducing his family, including his wife, Mary Ghee.

“I am so proud of James Ghee,” Mary Ghee said after the event. “He truly loves what he does, and he truly makes a difference in the lives of so many. I know it sounds corny, but I am so fortunate to be a part of James Ghee’s world.”

Speakers keyed on a variety of Ghee’s classic phrases and sayings, including “Now listen to this,” and “Keep smiling.”

“I’m pleased that people have picked up on my antics,” Ghee said. “They know how I talk. They know what I believe. All of it was very great.”