Phoebe honors Emily Jean McAfee with first Lemuel Griffin Community Service Award

Feb. 25—ALBANY — An Albany native who has dedicated her life to making Albany a better place to live is the first recipient of an award named in honor of another outstanding community servant. At a ceremony Thursday evening, Phoebe presented the inaugural Lemuel Griffin Community Service Award to Emily Jean McAfee.

"Lem Griffin and Emily Jean McAfee are two of the most selfless servant leaders this community has ever known," Phoebe Putney Health System President & CEO Scott Steiner said. "Phoebe is proud to honor Lem's legacy by creating this award in his name, and Emily Jean is the perfect person to receive the inaugural award."

McAfee was born in Albany to the prominent Haley family and was married to Billy McAfee for nearly 40 years before his death in 2011. She has an abiding love for southwest Georgia, spending her whole life here and always striving to improve Albany and the surrounding area, Phoebe officials noted in presenting the award.

"I've known Emily Jean for 40 years. She truly embodies a spirt of service above self and has always been a steadfast advocate for Albany and southwest Georgia," Bruce Melton, president of Oxford Construction Co. and chairman of the Phoebe Putney Health System Board of Directors, said. "When the Phoebe board decided to create this award, I immediately thought Emily Jean would be a deserving recipient, and I personally nominated her for the award."

McAfee served on the Dougherty County School Board for 12 years. She also served on many community committees and boards, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Albany and Thronateeska Heritage Center. She focused much of her volunteerism on organizations that support the arts and humanities and the natural world. As a founding member of Albany Tomorrow, McAfee was the primary influencer who transformed the idea of an aquarium in downtown Albany into the reality of the Flint RiverQuarium.

"The Flint RiverQuarium would not exist without Emily Jean," Melton said. "Not only did she work hard to secure public funding for the construction of the attraction, she led a private fundraising effort to sustain it, and she volunteered to serve as CEO for three years — with no pay.

"She works tirelessly for the civic good with selflessness, caring and concern. She is an irreplaceable gem in our community and a worthy recipient of the Lem Griffin Community Service Award."

Griffin also was a southwest Georgia native who spent his life supporting causes and organizations committed to improving the health and well-being of the people of this part of Georgia. He was an ardent supporter of the Boy Scouts of America, Salvation Army and Albany Technical College Foundation. He served on the Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Board from 1991-2004 and served as chairman of the Phoebe Putney Health System Board from 2005 until his death in 2020.

"Lem was a self-made man who would do anything he could to help others," Steiner said. "We know his legacy lives on in many ways, and, at Phoebe, we wanted to create a lasting way to remember and honor him. What better way than to annually recognize someone else, in Lem's name, who embodies his giving spirit and lives a similar life of service?"

In honor of McAfee and each future recipient of the award, Phoebe will make a donation to the nonprofit organization of their choice. McAfee chose to have the $10,000 donation in her name go to the Flint RiverQuarium.

Nominations for the 2024 Lemuel Griffin Community Service Award are now open. To nominate a deserving community servant, go to