Carrying on her mother's legacy of building community and love of local libraries, Suzi Lee believes in the ripple effect of goodness.
- story by Tricia Donham McAlvain
Grace was a well-known local librarian who began working in 1970, after Hurricane Camille. “I was in private nursing school in New Orleans,” said Suzi. “My mother saw the need for extra income. To meet financial needs, she applied at the library where she loved to spend time.”
In the years to follow, Grace drove the bookmobile to rural areas in Kiln, Lakeshore, and Pearlington before Diamondhead was a community. Eventually she helped open the library in Kiln.
Suzi loves to tell how her mother enjoyed making stops with the bookmobile at places like a neighborhood grocery store because there were no libraries at that time. Grace is still remembered by locals who were children then.
Now adults, they remember how Grace would choose books for regulars, knowing their reading preferences and setting books aside for them. For instance, Tim Kellar, Hancock County’s Chancery Clerk, believes that Grace always saved “the best books for me.”
In Grace’s spare time she would repair rare books. “Mom loved books, this library and her job. When Mom died, three library books were lying on her bedside table.”
In 1978, Hancock County officials designated Grace Rhodes Appreciation Day to honor the roving librarian. And in the lobby of the Bay St. Louis library, a brass leaf of the Bay St. Louis Foundation Tree reads “In Memory of Grace Rhodes.” Suzi purchased that particular tribute to recognize her mother’s work.
Suzi says, “Give to the places you believe in. The library does so many good things with their money.”
Her belief in the impact of libraries on the community has led her to being a member of the Library Foundation of Hancock County from 2006 to the present, where she served as a board member from 2006 to 2011.
In 2003, she helped dedicate the new library in Waveland, built after the older one was destroyed by Katrina. Her grandchildren are honored in the main branch of the Bay St. Louis Library and she has given to the Dr. Joseph Lee Waveland Children’s Library, named in honor of her husband.
As a registered nurse and wife of local surgeon Dr. Joseph Rillens Lee, the medical industry — and especially the surgical field — is dear to her heart. Doctor Lee is now a semi-retired surgeon after working 37+ years at the Hancock Medical Center.
Suzi’s dedication to the communities of both Bay St. Louis and Waveland led her to serve as a board member of Hancock Medical Center for the past eight years. During that time, she has worked to see the facilities were outfitted with updated surgical equipment. She also dedicated a new surgery suite at the hospital.
“[I believe] our actions are like tiny pebbles thrown into a body of water,” said Suzi. “The ripples created from the stone hitting the water can create goodness in everything you do.”