Another Year, Another Life

My Dear Rotarians and friends, in particular my Action Presidents,

Hi, it’s me, the new Governor of RI District 3450, talking to you in his new capacity for the first time. Rosita and I wish you well, whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing or about to do. We wish you another happy year ahead, filled to the brim with happy days and happiness. May you continue to enjoy good health, thereby enabling your strong right arm to help your club and the district carry out the many and varied service programs that would make our community and our district a better place in which to work and live.

I can no better convey to you the Rotary message for the year than to quote what our leader of leaders Frank Devlyn said to his team members on the first day of the Rotary year. Addressing them as “Dear Devlyn Action Team Members,” the RI President for 2000-2001 said,

“Today is the first day where we officially begin the work of our “Action Team”. All of you are aware of the importance I have placed on our theme . . . “Create Awareness . . . Take Action” . . . In our clubs, In our Community, In our world. It is now up to each of you to give life and meaning to our theme during our year. Let us never forget it is our time to make things happen. If we are to be successful in our goals, it will depend on you and me. Good luck and best wishes for a very successful Rotary year.”

An RI news release reported that on Thursday 29 June 2000 during the annual Presidential Changeover Ceremony at RI World Headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, USA, RI President Carlo Ravizza passed the torch to his successor, President-elect Frank Devlyn of the Rotary Club of Mexico City-Anahuac, Mexico. They were joined by their spouses, Rosanna and Gloria Rita. Both leaders praised the staff at RI Headquarters. Ravizza said, “You are the continuity,” while Devlyn reminded the staff of its importance in continuing to help Rotarians serve, as he thanked the outgoing president for his hard work.

It is interesting that our District Installation was also held on the same day as the leadership changeover at international level. What great minds!

In my last letter, I put in a last minute appeal to promote attendance at the District Installation. As it turned out, attendance was well over 920, and some sources put the peak attendance at around 980, counting those who could not stay for dinner. It was a great success by any standard, a convincing show of solidarity in the District, and a triumph of common sense. Many members and visitors billed it as an evening of extravaganza, and most people had found Rosanna Wong’s presentation on the third sector reassuring, inspiring and invigorating. Both Dipo Sani and myself were very pleased with what happened and were all praises for the hardworking Organizing Committee and the district officials involved.

I think we have achieved the objectives of creating awareness of Rotary in the community, of enhancing our public image as a business and professional concern as well as a cohesive community, of heightening our public relations in general and with the media in particular, and of partnering with other service organizations.

There are so many people we need to thank. Organizing Committee Chairman M K Cheng spelt out a list of names in his thank you speech, but even before he did that, he acknowledged that there were more. I would like to thank everyone who was or has been involved with the proceedings of that evening in any manner and fashion and regardless of whether he or she was present. It is clear evidence of the potentials within the Rotary community in the district and of the readiness, willingness and ability of the members to offer their talents for the greater good and in the name of service. Long may that last!

Quite a few readers have asked me direct to expand on what happened in the family after reading my last letter, while others have tried to read between the lines of my acceptance speech and draw inferences. Let me save you the guesswork, for I have never enjoyed this pastime and I believe I am not alone in this. I would try to be brief.

Rosita underwent mastectomy nearly three years ago after it was confirmed that there was a malignant tumour in a breast. Statistically, it was the very initial stage of breast cancer, and survival rates were high. All tests conducted after the operation confirmed that the cancer had not spread to other vital organs at the time. We had discussed her conditions between friends not only because it would help us to better handle the conditions in the family, but also because it would enable friends and friends of friends to come to us for advice and support should they find a need to do so.

Being an eternal optimist, I had always said that Rosita had fully recovered – Rosita has a slightly different view – and we were encouraged by the regular medical reports afterwards, so much so that two years ago, Rosita had seen it fit to encourage me to go for the office of district governor with the pledge that she would offer me her full support. It was a very blissful two years, until the middle of last month when evidence emerged that Rosita’s breast cancer could have spread to other vital organs. After more tests, her doctors confirmed for the first time in nearly three years that they had conclusive evidence that the cancer had spread to the liver, lungs and bones. The doctors advised immediate chemotherapy and restrictive social activities because of the likely accompanying side effects.

The news was shocking, and coming at a time when we were all fired up to take up the challenges of the office of governor. It became clear that Rosita would be unable to accompany me for most of the Rotary functions and activities in the next three months at least. This is because the treatment promises progressive deterioration of the body immunity system, reduction in white blood cells and platelets, and so on.

Rosita asked me to break the bad news, particularly within the Rotary community, so that they would understand why she could not join me in the many functions she would have loved to. I began the painful though somewhat therapeutic process gradually, beginning with very close friends, members of my own Rotary club, and the Installation Organizing Committee. We need to do this gradually for obvious reasons.

The responses from friends have been overwhelming. We received many beautiful messages of support, voluntary and unequivocal offers for services and advice, prayers, letters, cards and telephone calls. For a time, it was rather tiring and disturbing, particularly when there was very little we could tell friends and well wishers at this stage. The promised adverse side effects had yet to set in. Once again, we would like to thank our friends for their concern and support, and at the same time, we apologize to those whom we have been unable to speak to until now, for reasons I have already mentioned.

Please do not feel sad or bad for us, but please pray for us instead if you can. Pray for the strength that both Rosita and I would need to fight back. We are not taking this sitting down; we are fighting back; and we shall overcome. I have no doubt, not a trace of doubt, that Rosita would recover and lead a long and happy life. It would be nice to know that you all think and feel the same.

We look at the present setback as an aberration and a test of our resolve to face adversity and life itself. A psychiatrist friend put it very nicely and neatly the other day. It is death or the image of death that makes life meaningful; and it is the pain that one has gone through that makes one enjoy life’s simple joys to the full. Roista and I were watching Larry King’s February interview with Diane Keaton and Walter Mattheau yesterday. It was a recorded broadcast. Walter had just come out of an eight-month hospitalization for multiple kidney failures and other complications, but he was full of life and chatting to Larry and other callers, including his long-time friend Jack Lemon who was 75. Jack told Walter that he was afraid Walter could not make it when he visited him in the hospital. Walter’s response was classic, “Jack, you take care too, young man.” Well, by now, you would know that Walter died yesterday from a heart attack. He was 79. During the interview, he told Larry that he had taken a career in acting so that he could live other people’s lives, not just his own which he did not particularly fancy at the time. We could be taking his view out of context, but I would like to believe that the life of each and every person is unique, potentially beautiful and meaningful, and worth living in its own right, that it would take a person a life time and probably longer to fathom its full meaning notwithstanding.

I hope you all recover from this morning’s Euro 2000 Final and I hope you approve the result. Dom Vessigault certainly would.

Talk to you soon.

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