Justine Wilkinson Washington thought she had been invited to the joint annual meeting of Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce to deliver a keynote speech on leadership.
She was shocked when community leaders bestowed the city's highest award for civic leadership on her and her late husband, Isaiah "Ike" Edward Washington.
"Frankly, I am just about at a point where I don't know what to say," Dr. Washington said.
The prominent couple - he a longtime educator, civil rights activist and former city councilman, she a lifelong educator and former Paine College administrator - were named the inaugural recipients of the Augusta Award.
The newly created honor recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to civic progress and unity.
Dr. Ike Washington, who died earlier this year at age 91, served on the Augusta City Council for 17 years and was a Richmond County teacher and principal for 38.
The Blythe native and Paine College graduate championed a variety of causes, including development of Riverwalk Augusta and redevelopment of the Laney-Walker district.
He also fought for minority interests during the consolidation of the city and county governments during the 1990s and was a "calm and constructive voice of reason" in the black community during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, said former Congressman Douglas Barnard Jr., chairman of the award's selection committee.
Dr. Justine Washington, a native of Athens, went to work for the Aiken Board of Education in 1936. In 1961, she accepted the position of associate professor of education and psychology at Paine College. She retired from Paine in 1981 as a division chairwoman.
"You are all excellent leaders," she told the crowd of 300 business professionals and elected officials. "I am really touched, from the bottom of my heart, to receive this recognition."
She told the crowd she would continue to "hold her head high" and put her "best foot forward."
"For 92 years that woman has put her best foot forward," remarked Augusta State University President William A. Bloodworth.
Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.