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Gulfport Rotary surprises member with prestigious Founder’s Award

Bobbie Thomas, sitting, shows a look of astonishment when she is named the recipient of the Gulfport Rotary Club’s Captain William Harris Hardy Founder’s Award on Thursday.
Bobbie Thomas, sitting, shows a look of astonishment when she is named the recipient of the Gulfport Rotary Club’s Captain William Harris Hardy Founder’s Award on Thursday. Special to the Sun Herald

Bobbie Thomas sat with a look of astonishment as fellow Gulfport Rotary Club members jubilantly applauded her Thursday. Thomas had just received the Gulfport Rotary Club’s Captain William Harris Hardy Founder’s Award at the club’s meeting at the Great Southern Club in Gulfport.

“I’m overwhelmed. I never dreamed that this would happen,” said Thomas, who became the Gulfport Rotary Club’s first female member more than three decades ago.

“I was just thinking that I wasn’t believing that I’m the person you think I am,” she said to a round of laughter.

The remark amused her fellow Rotarians, because they knew of the many contributions Thomas has made to the club, other community organizations and in her profession.

Thomas was selected over four other finalists by a committee of five Gulfport Rotary ex-presidents.

Program moderator Ellis Hill described Thomas as a “model Rotarian,” and “one of the backbones of our club.”

Hill said the committee worked hard to surprise her because they were “actually afraid she would refuse the award.”

“If there was a dictionary or Wikipedia for phrases used in our society today and you looked up the phrase ‘Service Above Self’ (a motto of the Rotary Club), you would find a picture of (Thomas) prominently displayed,” Hill said.

“Bobbie has been involved in the community for so many years,” said Dave Vincent, who nominated Thomas. “She’s just a wonderful lady. She never thinks of herself, she always thinks of others.”

Thomas, the club’s sergeant at arms, also was cited for her strong involvement with the Salvation Army, Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra, the state’s Daughters of the American Revolution chapter and on the advisory board of William Carey University.

She had been well-known as an aide to retired U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, working in his Gulfport office for 30 years.

Lott sent a statement, which read in part: “If there is a better lady and better politician on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I don’t know who it is. If you had a problem, Bobbie would find a solution. Loyalty and service are what makes her tick.”

Thomas also served on the state parole board under former Gov. Haley Barbour. She chairs a program that goes to high schools to recruit students to the Rotary Club while also offering scholarships. She is a mother of three children and grandmother of five.

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