Bonifay grilled to well done at Pilot Club Roast

Published 9:49 pm Friday, October 21, 2016

After a severe grilling, they are all still friends. Featured Roasters, left to right, Maggie Rentz Smith, John Wooden, the Roastee Suzi Bonifay, Mary Lynn White, Debbie Williams and Tommie Howell .After a severe grilling, they are all still friends. Featured Roasters, left to right, Maggie Rentz Smith, John Wooden, the Roastee Suzi Bonifay, Mary Lynn White, Debbie Williams and Tommie Howell .

What began as a slow sauté, soon became a sizzling, searing roast Tuesday evening when colleagues, former students and friends turned up the heat on Dr. Suzi Bonifay at the annual Pilot Club Roast.

Bonifay recently retired after a long and successful career with the Decatur County Education Department.

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Emcee Mary Lynn White set the temperature with an introductory history, complete with childhood photos projected on the screen. Comments obtained from family members regarding Suzi’s stubborn temperament as a child were related. Some examples:  “She was in charge from birth. Suzi had fits when she didn’t get what she wanted.”

Apparently she didn’t moderate much through the years, as additional speakers continued to reference her attitudes, as well as her endless energy.  It was alleged that those who worked with her called her a “female version of Simon Legree.” No matter how hard we worked, she was always ahead of us.”

First up was BHS Principal Tommie Howell, who gave her payback for the comments she made about him at last year’s Roast.

He said he first knew her when they were tailgating together as students at FSU. He demonstrated how she looks and pulls her hair when she gets angry and talked about her terrible driving skills, comparing her to “a Tasmanian she-devil,” who scared him speechless when he had to ride anywhere with her. He offset his complaints with compliments, saying she is the best grant writer, a talented artist, involved in lots of activities in the community as well as state educational associations.

Next up was Maggie Rentz Smith who was a student of Dr. Bonifay’s in 1993-94.  She said Bonifay always would tell “jokes” in the classroom that made the students wonder if she really knew any good jokes. She too, was complimentary of Bonifay, saying, “She is a big deal in education, more than just locally— a big deal state-wide. She went to the state conventions every year.” Smith went on to say that one year she didn’t go. People got together and put a large photo of Bonifay’s face on hand fans, so they would know what to do.  As if on cue, people waived the fans that Smith had previously placed at each table.

John Wooden, now Principal of Bainbridge Middle School and Senior Pastor of St. Paul M.B. Church, began his career in education as a custodian, then a paraprofessional, and was hired by Bonifay as a career counselor and business teacher. He described her as his first mentor. He forewarned the audience that he was putting out disclaimers before he spoke, so no information could be used against him in what he called “Suzi’s Court of Law.”

He, too, spoke disparagingly of her driving abilities, adding that she made a movie called “Driving Mr. Bubba,” a take-off on “Driving Miss Daisy.” She also used to refer to herself as “John’s White Mother, “ a practice he often found embarrassing and  hard to explain, especially to his daughter, one of  her students.

Wooden described Bonifay as “a pit bull”, when she set her mind to something, who always knew her son, “Big Bubba,” as she affectionately called him, would be there to help her if she got in trouble.

In closing, Wooden softened his comments, saying she was his mentor, his friend, his teacher and “My White Mama.” He thanked her for the great impact she has made on education.

The mystery roaster turned out to be Debbie Williams, a good friend, housemate, and another retired career educator, who promised to let the audience in on “Suzi-isms.” She demonstrated several types of body language used by Suzi, each indicating a different level of a hurricane. She related several hilarious stories, especially one about armadillo exterminating, best left unpublished.

Bonifay gave a brief rebuttal thanking the Pilot Club for their support, “totally at my expense.” She acknowledged leadership was easy when you are surrounded by bright, efficient people. She was especially appreciative of John “PapaBear,” Wooden, saying he always played good cop to her bad cop.

She concluded by acknowledging that some of the stories were true and some fiction,  “We had fun at West Bainbridge Middle School. You can read all these stories and more when I publish my book.”

Current Pilot Club President, Gail Sharber, noted the annual roast, which is all in fun, is the major fundraiser for the club, helping them to support their many charitable endeavors.