Vella Gene (Scott) Mbenna, a native of the Holmestown community near Midway, retired Nov. 30 after 32½ years as a federal government employee, including 27 years serving domestically and abroad as a member of the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service. She is the youngest daughter of Helen Way Scott and the late Norman Scott Sr. of Holmestown.
Even though her high school graduating class predicted that she would become a secretary at the school, Mbenna’s aspiration was quite different. After graduating from Bradwell Institute in 1978 and receiving her Bachelors of Business Administration from Georgia Southern College in 1982, Mbenna set out to make her dream of traveling and working around the world become a reality.
Prior to embarking on her diplomatic journey, Mbenna served as a civil servant at various military bases in California, Georgia and North Carolina. She was sworn into the Foreign Service the summer of 1989, and this began her diplomatic career, working in U.S. embassies around the world. During her career, Mbenna earned accolades such as a heroism award, numerous meritorious honor awards, honorable mentions and the State Department’s 2015 Equal Employment Opportunity Award just 25 days before she retired.
She said that when she was invited to join the diplomatic corps 27 years ago, she had no idea how exciting and rewarding the career would be.
Between executing her duties on behalf of her country, Mbenna shared her southeast Georgia hospitality with the world. For foreign friends and colleagues, Mbenna often prepared and shared her mom’s red rice dish and worked her Southern charm on her guests. Mbenna said she enjoyed each country in which she lived and worked and left a taste of coastal Georgia with many along the way.
In the Philippines, she said she survived a coup and earthquake. In Peru, she narrowly escaped two Shining Path terrorist attacks. In Tanzania, she walked out of the 1998 U.S. embassy attack with only a few scratches. In Lebanon, she stood among ancient Roman ruins of the Becca Valley. In Uganda, she bathed her feet and legs in the source of the Nile River while eating roasted grasshoppers.
“Considering all of my close encounters around the world, I am extremely happy and blessed to see my retirement and being mentally and physically healthy to enjoy it,” Mbenna said. “I thank God for guiding and protecting me along the way. Also, I thank my family and friends and community in general for their support and prayers, for without them I am not sure how I would have managed the highs and lows of living abroad for so many years.”
She has volunteered her time at several elementary schools in Liberty County and spoke with local teenage girls regarding aspirations that extend beyond U.S. borders.
“Lastly, I do not want to end this interview or career without remembering the late Rev. Abraham Sullivan of St. Peter’s AME Church in Midway, Georgia, who stood in church the week before I left to be sworn in and said these words that have resonated within me throughout my journey: ‘A small-town girl will see the world. Go on, my child, and take the Lord with you. Take the Lord with you!”
Mbenna said, “Dreams do come true if God is in it.”