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Aldridge first winner of Pat Patrick award

COVINGTON - Lee Aldridge is known for having one of the biggest hearts in Newton County.

Her volunteer work touches people of all ages through organizations with causes ranging from health care to literacy to the arts.

So it's only fitting that Aldridge is the first recipient of the first Pat Patrick Big Heart Award, given by the Newton Fund of The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

Named in honor of Joseph E. "Pat" Patrick, founding chairman of the Newton Fund, the award recognizes and honors an individual who gives back to the community through service and volunteer time with local non-profit agencies.

Aldridge received the award Tuesday night at a ceremony held at The Center for Community Preservation and Planning, where she was presented with a $2,000 grant to donate to the nonprofit agency of her choice.

Aldridge chose to divide the money between three of her most cherished causes: $1,000 went to the Newton Medical Center Auxiliary; while the Service Guild of Covington and the Arts Association in Newton County each received $500.

"I am so proud to be here today. I am proud to receive this award, and I thank all of you for adding so much to my life," Aldridge said.

Aldridge was nominated for the award by Lynn Garrett, a member of the Service Guild of Covington, one of the many organizations she champions.

"It is seldom that one encounters a person with the exuberance for life that Lee exhibits," Garrett stated in her nomination letter. "Lee Aldridge is a very spiritual person. She loves God first, family second and then Lee loves humanity. She loves the old, the young, the poor, the rich, the energetic, the lazy, the generous and the stingy, black, white, yellow, she loves them all. She's enthusiastic about life and the people in it. She finds something good in everyone she meets, and she brings out the good in those where it's most difficult to find."

Aldridge serves as the first vice president and conservation chair for the Service Guild. During her years with the guild, she also has held the position of public affairs chair and devoted hours of volunteer work and money to causes, such as local veterans and nursing homes; the local homeless shelter; The Learning Center, the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce; Project ReNeWal; and the Newton County Department of Family and Children Services.

She also serves on the board of directors for the Newton Medical Center Auxiliary and is an active member of Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful and a supporter of the Arts Association in Newton County.

A retired educator who taught in the Newton County School System for 37 years, Aldridge is still affectionately called "Mrs. A" by her former students.

"It's not uncommon to find Lee Aldridge dressed in a "Cat in the Hat' outfit at a local elementary school to celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday during Read Across America, or she might be dressed in a Halloween witch's outfit for a children's party at the local battered women's shelter," Pat Patrick said, reading from Garrett's nomination letter, before presenting Aldridge with her award. "She's just as likely to be found preparing Christmas shoe boxes to send to our soldiers in Iraq or putting together goody bags for elderly folks in a nursing home. She might be found simply sitting by the bedside of a lonely patient at Newton Medical or even manning the gift shop there."

Aldridge's other volunteer work includes leading tours of Covington for the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce and serving on the Covington Planning Commission.

She also has served on the board of the Newton County Historical Society and is a past president of the Newton County Retired Teachers Association.

She is an active member of Porterdale United Methodist Church, where she is president of her Sunday school class and is on the administrative board.

"When I retired from teaching, I was lost, truly lost," Aldridge said. "I started a full-time job volunteering, and I've loved every second of it."

Aldridge and her husband, Jerry, have been married for 47 years and have three children.

"There is no doubt that now is the time to honor Lee Aldridge for all her years of service to Covington, Newton County and the surrounding community. Now is the time to recognize that there is no bigger heart in Covington than the one in Lee Aldridge," Patrick said.

A plaque bearing an inscription of Aldridge's name, along with the names of all future award winners, will hang in the Community Foundation office at The Center. Aldridge also received a necklace from Southern Heartland Art Gallery.

The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta's Newton Fund was established in January 2000 to help individuals, corporations and foundations respond to the charitable needs of Newton County residents. The Newton Fund has its own local board of directors and works to foster and promote local philanthropy.

For more information, visit The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta's Web site at www.atlcf.org and click on Newton under the local funds heading.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.