- story by Tricia Donham McAlvain
For Suzi Lee, it’s all about family and being dedicated to the Mississippi coast communities where she was born and raised. The daughter of Willys and Grace Rhodes, both Suzi and her mother Grace have impacted lives for generations through their passionate dedication of time and donations to local libraries and within the medical community.
However, top priority for Suzi is her family of five children and 12 grandchildren. She prides herself on being active in their daily lives as much as possible.
Ma Mère, as her grandchildren call Suzi, always keeps a book on the front seat of her car, and adores telling the kids about the books she is reading at the moment. Sharing and teaching through reading comes naturally, a passion for local libraries having been passed to her from Grace.
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.”
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.
Suzi’s light also shines as an active member of her church’s Rabboni Ministry, which is a bereavement group with about 150 members. Her fellow parishioners at Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church in Bay St. Louis awarded her the Lumen Christi award in October 4, 2011. This award is given to those parishioners throughout their diocese who truly are “lights of Christ” as demonstrated by the lives they live and the service they freely give to their parishes.
Now that her husband is semi-retired, she is looking forward to more travel within the United States. Her love of reading takes her even further in her imagination to interesting destinations such as Italy, France, Alaska, China, Australia, and New Zealand.
But she's not planning on slowing down with her community work any time soon: