Friends of community activist, successful businesswoman and long-time Bulloch County resident Trish Tootle surprised her Monday night with a 60th birthday “roast” to benefit Ogeechee Area Hospice.
A small committee known as “Trish’s Angels” began planning months ago to celebrate and honor a woman who has spent most of her lifetime giving back to the community she calls home.
Left speechless when she first realized the story she’d been told — that she was attending an event to meet the new chief of police — was a rouse to get her to an event that was actually to honor her, Tootle said, “I’ve always had a passion for people. I’ve always loved God, and he gave me that passion for others. I have a great love for people.
“My husband was the same way. We always wanted to make life better for someone else.”
Tootle has worked more than 30 years at Farmers and Merchants Bank in a variety of positions, currently as FMB senior vice president. Her resume of civic involvement is lengthy and includes work with the Statesboro Kiwanis Club, the Kiwanis Rodeo, the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce, the Averitt Center for the Arts, Relay for Life of Bulloch/GS, the Statesboro Police Foundation and Ogeechee Area Hospice.
In the past, she’s also been involved with the United Way, Red Cross, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, Safe Haven and the Hearts and Hands Clinic.
Tootle also is very involved at Emit Grove Baptist Church, currently as a Sunday school teacher, and is part of the Walk to Emmaus community.
In 2003, Tootle received a Deen Day Smith Service to Mankind Award and was chosen in 2013 as the Statesboro Herald Humanitarian of the Year. She also earned the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce Libba Smith Award.
The roast begins
According to the roasters and guest speakers, Tootle has dedicated herself to the Bulloch County community through the years.
Julie Mincey, Tootle’s younger sister, began the event and tattled on a few of her sister’s shenanigans as a young child, but ended, “We talk about four times a day. She’s my best friend.”
Nancy Bryant, founder and former director of Ogeechee Area Hospice, quipped that when Tootle began volunteering with the organization, she didn’t follow the proper channels. Tootle’s husband, David, was an official hospice volunteer, but Tootle “eventually became a legal volunteer and active member of the board of directors for many years.”
Bryant continued with the ribbing when she told the huge crowd in attendance that each year at the hospice barbecue chicken dinner fundraiser, originally initiated by Tootle and John Scott, other volunteers attempted to keep Tootle away from the distribution point.
“Trish knows everyone in Bulloch County and their mother and father and their kids and their dogs,” Bryant said. “There’s a long, long line of cars waiting to pick up their dinners, and she spends two or three hours running up to every car, saying, ‘Hey! How’s your mama? How’s that knee surgery?’ We try to hurry her up, but amazingly, people don’t seem to mind at all.”
Then more seriously, Bryant added, “She never ceases to amaze me — her enthusiasm, her commitment, her creativity. I often wonder, ‘Does she ever sleep?’”
Tim Huffingham, pastor of Tootle’s church, said about his parishioner: “Trish Tootle loves Jesus Christ in a very deep way. That conviction creates this deep caring.
“God has given her this supernatural and incredible energy that she uses to minister to other people.”
Frank Rozier, FMB board member and former chairman; Lovett Bennett, attorney and close personal friend; and Gerald Edenfield, former chairman of the FMB board, roasted the honored guest next, and the witticisms, retorts and jabs tended to center around her flamboyant high heels and bright nail polish, the color of her hair and the speed at which she travels about town.
Rozier shared a story about Tootle’s dedication to customers, specifically about taking a meal to a family following a death, and said, “That’s the Trish Tootle we all know and love. That’s her DNA.”
“As a full-time Scoutmaster,” Bennett began, “I cannot tell a lie about Trish Tootle. But as an attorney, I make no warranties about the truths, expressed or implied.”
Bennett looked straight at Tootle and added, “You’ve touched so many lives. We don’t want you to change your hair color. We don’t want you to give up your jewelry. We don’t want you to drive at a snail’s pace — and don’t worry about your driving, because if I can’t get you out of jail, I’ll get in there with you.”
After a few barbs of his own, Edenfield ended the roast: “You’ll never meet a more honest lady. Trish, your character, intelligence and kindness are evident. The integrity you’ve shared with us has made us all better people. We appreciate you.”
The guest of honor
In lieu of birthday gifts, attendees were encouraged to make a donation to Ogeechee Area Hospice, one of Tootle’s greatest passions. She and her husband were active volunteers with Ogeechee Area Hospice prior to David’s late-stage-4 melanoma diagnosis in August 2010.
“On our 36th wedding anniversary, he was placed under hospice care,” Tootle said. “He lived three weeks.”
Ogeechee Area Hospice continues to hold a special place in Tootle’s heart, which is why organizers chose to benefit the organization with the event.
Tootle welcomed the chance to have her turn at the microphone and said, “I am truly honored and humbled. I love my community. And I love Ogeechee Area Hospice.
“When I was a volunteer, I thought I knew everything to know about hospice. When I was on the board of directors, I thought I knew everything about hospice. When I worked on the capital campaign, I thought I knew it all. But when they came in and took care of my husband and my aunt and uncle, that’s when I knew about hospice.
“When I look out at this audience, I see a roomful of people who do for this community and who do for the Lord. Matthew 25:40 says, ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”’
“Thank you for making an old girl who is 60 years old feel like a million dollars!”
Friends and planners for the event included Cindy Collins, Lead Dog Productions owner; Fay Ruarks, FMB employee and Emit Grove Baptist Church member; Jennifer Nunn, Ogeechee Area Hospice community and healthcare liaison; Belinda Nelson, Ogeechee Area Hospice volunteer coordinator; Tinker Lanier, former head of non-profit giving with Ogeechee Area Hospice; Julie Mincey, Tootle’s sister; and Alex Grovenstein, president of the Statesboro Kiwanis Club.