The day before Rotary began

If you were there – the day before Rotary began – you would be at least 98 now. Most of us would be a small kid in a previous reincarnation, doing some good deeds one hopes.

That was what John Thorne alluded to this morning when he spoke to participants at the District Team Training Seminar. On that day, young lawyer Paul Harris was feeling very lonely in a big city he did not know too well and he decided to call up three friends for a meeting the next day. They came and obviously had a good chat with Paul, so much so they decided to meet again and again in the workplace of each other. And the rest is now history. If he had not called the meeting that day, there would have been no Rotary today.

John Thorne is of course RI Director John Thorne of South Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Until recently, the people John and Shirley knew best in Hong Kong were Raymond and Vivien Wong, Ko Ying and Pat, a few past governors and probably not many more. Fate had it that he and Shirley came to visit us for a few days and spoke at the Seminar, thereby giving our Governor-elect and his team a very much welcome morale booster. The couple was here last some 20 years ago when they spent some time on an ocean liner berthed along Ocean Terminal. By the time they left Chek Lap Kok tonight, they have met and made many more friends and Hong Kong will never be the same to the Thornes.

John shared with his audience how he came to be associated with the Rotary family. It was in the late Seventies. He was a young school principal and a scout leader when one day he was assigned duties at a Rotary District Conference and later invited to apply for a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. He did and in 1978-79 found himself a Rotary Teacher of the Handicapped Scholar at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) in California, USA. Later, he founded a school for the deaf in Australia and was one of a group who wrote the first Australian Dictionary of Sign Language. He also founded JobMatch, a service that helps the disabled find employment in the community. In 1998, he received The Rotary Foundation Scholar Alumni Service Award.

It is clear that John always has service on his mind, and service to the youth and the elderly in particular. In his short presentation on “Leadership in Rotary,” he urged the district leadership team not to underestimate or belittle what one individual or a club can do. Thus if each club can bring in ten youths each year through Rotaract, Interact, Youth Exchange, Rotary Youth Leadership Award or other youth related programmes, the District as a whole could have positive influence on 500 youths in a year or 5,000 in ten years, and so on. Many of these youths could become leaders of tomorrow and in turn change the lives of many more people for the better through the positive values they picked up when they were youths.

Two days before, John and Shirley attended the Spring Dinner of the District Foundation Alumni Association and shared their vitality and youthfulness. This fledgling group is doing well and I have no doubt will add value to the District in the days to come. Next time your club is short of speakers or inspiration, I suggest you call up the Association for ideas. They have set up a Web page on the District Website; and if you don’t know where they are, call me.

Talking of Website, RI has set up a new Website on the Centennial Celebrations and has started the countdown from 21 February. I stumbled into it accidentally and was among the first 50 in the world who participated in the survey on awareness of the site. It is early days yet, but already it has the signs and potentials of a super website. If you are looking for ideas for your club centennial projects, go to it now.

Still on Centennial Celebrations, RI Past President Cliff Dochterman who is no stranger to our District made a presentation at the International Institute in Anaheim during which he urged his audience to volunteer to be club or district coordinators when they got back home. Well, I did: I volunteer to my club president and was promptly appointed Chairman of the club committee. More interestingly, some club members had urged the President to give me the job so that I would not feel bored after my retirement.

So my retirement is beginning to kick in. Well, I suppose I can start the countdown now, just about six weeks away. There is so much to do, and Rosita would like me to start by clearing the mess – mostly Rotary related – I have accumulated over the years to make the flat appear roomier.

In the meantime, friends and acquaintances have kept asking what my plans are. My reply has been consistent and firm, “I don’t know yet and I am keeping all options open.” Well, one thing I would try to learn is maybe to rid myself of some annoying virtues, or in other words, be more flexible with people and life.

I wish you all a Happy World Understanding Month and a happier Rotary Anniversary.

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