A cherished affiliation

Published 9:50 am Saturday, July 10, 2010

My admiration for the Rotary Club began long before my involvement.

As a kid growing up in a small Southern town not much bigger than Franklin, I noticed a common thread among the men who were the professional and civic pillars of my community: Nearly every one of them belonged to the town’s Rotary Club.

I aspired to be one of them.

A couple of decades later, in another small town where my career had taken me, I joined the Rotary Club for the first time. Still wet behind the ears as a business and community leader, I felt unworthy of sharing an affiliation with the role models of my childhood.

By that time, civic club membership had begun to decline in America, and Rotary, like other organizations, wasn’t as choosy about who it let in. I was happy just to be a part — to gather weekly with many of the top leaders of that community, to network and fellowship with like-minded professionals, and to hear interesting speakers each week who gave me a crash course on civic and professional life in that community.

For a decade, Rotary remained very much a “local” experience for me. I attended the weekly club meeting, enjoyed a good meal, paid my dues, made an occasional financial contribution and participated in service projects once or twice a year.

Two years ago, after a few weeks of friendly badgering from Bill Billings, then president of the Rotary Club of Franklin, I reluctantly agreed to attend a district Rotary leadership retreat in Wakefield one winter Saturday. That day, the light bulb came on for me, revealing Rotary as so much more than a local civic club.

To see hundreds of Rotarians from all over southeastern and central Virginia excited about Rotary as an international organization of good will and service to our fellow man was an eye opener for me and heightened my desire to become more involved in its leadership.

Rotarians number 1.2 million around the globe, working collectively to make their communities and the world better. They sponsor the largest privately funded international scholarship program in the world and initiate thousands of humanitarian projects every year. One such project here at home last year was the purchase of winter coats for needy students at S.P. Morton Elementary School.

Rotary’s top philanthropic goal is to end polio worldwide. We are close. In the two decades since Rotary and its global partners launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, polio cases have been slashed 99 percent. The disease still threatens children in Africa and Asia.

I am forever grateful to Billings, a man who epitomizes the organization’s motto of “Service Above Self,” for that invitation to Wakefield two years ago — and his persistence in encouraging me to accept.

On Friday, I accepted the gavel as president of the Rotary Club of Franklin for 2010-11, succeeding Dr. Doug Boyce, who set a high bar for effective leadership.

I don’t put Rotary on a pedestal above Ruritan, Lions, Kiwanis and the many other fine civic organizations that serve this community. All do a terrific job of making the world a better place for those less fortunate. Rotary simply is the avenue of community service that has worked best for me.

In leading the Franklin club over the next 12 months, I hope to give something of value back to the organization that inspired me as a kid and has enriched my life as an adult.