Remembering Paulo

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

Many Rotarians throughout the world woke up this morning and were saddened by the news of the death of Past RI President Paulo V C Costa who gave us the theme “Honour Rotary with Faith and Enthusiasm” when he was President in 1990-91. I got the news first from a past president and later had confirmation from a few sources, including ROTI. Past Governor Arthur Au was Governor in 1990-91. It must have been a very sad day for him. Paulo Costa will be remembered as the man who introduced the Preserve Planet Earth program to Rotary. He was flamboyant, energetic, charismatic, passionate and enthusiastic, but more importantly, he is a visionary and a man of action. It was he who first made Rotary and Rotarian aware of the need and urgency to preserve our planet. Since then, many of us have awakened and become more aware of our responsibility towards environmental protection. I recall he had a trailer made for television sent round to clubs to promote the theme. My Club President then was Charles Lam. He showed us the video at a meeting. The membership was impressed not only by the video, but more so by the man who had it made. I first met Paulo Costa in person in April 1997 when he came to Hong Kong to attend our District Conference as the Personal Representative of the RI President, then Luis Giay. PDG Y K Cheng was then Governor and asked me to organize a PPE project. I responded by requesting Y K to declare 12 April 1997 our District Preserve Planet Earth Awareness Day. So it was, exactly three years from today, we organize an outdoor function in Shatin Central Park during which Paulo presented seedlings to some 80 young men and women of the New Generations, viz., our Rotaractors, Interactors and Rylarians. During the ceremony, Paulo Costa urged Rotarians not to relent in their efforts to preserve their planet. He told his audience that when he started Rotary’s Preserve Planet Earth Program in 1990-91, there were about 1.1 million Rotarians. His dream was to have each Rotarian plant a tree in the year he was RI President. As it happened, after less than three months in office, there were already 30 million trees planted in programs sponsored by Rotarians. I can still recall his childlike laughter when he related to us his joy at hearing the news. While he was in the District, Paulo Costa took time to meet representatives of the local Green groups at a lunch hosted by PDG Y K Cheng in his honour. The Green groups represented at the meeting were Director of Friends of the Earth Mrs. Mei Ng, Conservancy Association Chairman Dr. Ng Cho-nam, Green Power Activator Ms Candy Lai, World Wild Fund for Nature Executive Director Mr. David Melville and Marine Conservation Society Chairman Dr. Brian Darvell. During the meeting, Paulo Costa told his guests that Rotary is committed to the preservation of the world’s flora and fauna and to the reduction of global pollution. He said that Rotary had the infrastructure to reach out to the grassroots, that Rotary’s programs would not be hindered by country borders, or differences in languages or races. He saw immense scope for Rotary clubs to work with Green groups on environmental protection projects. Paulo Costa also left with us many jokes at that District Conference; I have been assured that they would all be included in the Proceedings to be published very soon. Looking back, Paulo Costa was indeed a pioneer and a visionary. It was during his presidency that “Rotary Wisdom – Reflections on Service” was commissioned. This is a collection of articles from Rotarians on the same question of “Why I am a Rotarian”. In the Introduction to the book, Paulo Costa wrote, “This is a book to be read in silence, perhaps even with reverence, mindful of these words of Mother Teresa: The fruit of silence is Prayer. The fruit of prayer is Faith. The fruit of faith is love, The fruit of love is Service.” I met him a few times since at International Conventions and the last time during the International Assembly in Anaheim in February. He was still razor sharp with his humour. He recognized me from a distance and would shout my name out loud. There was not a sign that he would go so soon at the time, which is why I was so shocked when the news came over early this morning. I ask you all to pray for his soul, whether you know him personally or not, for he was truly a great friend and a great Rotarian.

Talk to you soon.

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