Convention 2007 Opens, Celebrating Rotary's Power & Dreams

Gates asks Rotarians to think big and reach out to global neighbors

Praising Rotarians for their "mind-boggling efforts" to "dramatically change millions and millions of lives," honorary Rotarian William Gates Sr. called on Rotarians to "think big" and finish the job of polio eradication.

"Now, due mostly to your astounding, 20-year campaign, the world is right on the brink of eliminating polio entirely," said Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, closing the third plenary session Tuesday in the packed Salt Palace auditorium.

Just moments before Gates gave his speech, Foundation Chair Luis Giay and 2006-07 President William B. Boyd presented Gates with a Polio Eradication Champion Award.

Gates, a retired Seattle attorney and father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, introduced himself as "just a guy from the little town of Bremerton, Washington. Yet somehow, I have spent the last decade traveling around the world, thinking about monstrous problems."

Since its inception in 2000, the Gates Foundation has helped fight polio alongside Rotary, contributing US$150 million to the polio eradication initiative.

"All the money in the world doesn't matter if it isn't spent the right way," Gates said. "[Rotary] gives people a way to convert their resources into results for the people who need them most."

He recounted how his connection to the polio fight began early on, in the days prior to the introduction of the Salk vaccine and following the 1952 polio epidemic in the U.S., when his wife was pregnant with their first child.

"It is almost impossible to fully appreciate how successful Rotary has been in fighting that disease," said Gates, who added that Rotary members use three things efficiently: wallets to fund initiatives, legs to drive them, and lungs to spread the word.

And Rotary sets an example as one of the "finest organizations on the planet," he said. "You are an army of activists who place Service Above Self."

Gates, an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Seattle, said as the world shrinks, Rotarians are turning their attention to what he called the global neighborhood. "You understand that in our century, you are called to serve new neighbors [in countries] that once seemed far away — people who once seemed so different from us."

The shrinking world and spirit of international cooperation was also the subject of the talk session's second speaker, Brigitta von Messling, a Rotary World Peace Fellow who traveled to Salt Lake from Berlin, Germany, where she is working for a nonprofit organization that focuses on conflict resolution in the Balkans.

A former inner-city Brooklyn, New York, school teacher, she described her study time in Bradford, England, that has left her with friends in "Angola, the Congo, Indonesia, Nepal, Jamaica, and Japan. [Such fellowship is] an integral tool in peace-building around the world."

She closed her speech by paraphrasing Be Here Now author and contemporary spiritual thinker Ram Dass: "Just as billions of tiny acts of ignorance, greed, violence, and exploitation have created most of the suffering and breakdown that exists, so the billions of tiny acts of compassion…heal the situation."

Rotarians' selflessness is sorely needed

(June 2007) Salt Lake City —
By Marjorie Cortez, Deseret Morning News

I felt my grandpa's spirit today. How could I not, in the midst of so many service-minded men and women from all over the world. The Rotary International is in town for its annual gathering, which is the largest convention ever hosted in Salt Lake City.

For my grandfather, Nicholas Medina, Rotary International was a natural extension of a life of service. He was a Navy man, having served his country in World War II and Korea. He worked for the local office of Colorado's state employment service. At one point, he recruited seasonal agricultural laborers to work the farms in southern Colorado. He enjoyed helping people find employment because he believed in the dignity of work.

He also believed in giving back to his community so he became a Rotarian. He took a lot of pride in that, particularly when he became president of his local club.

I regret, now, that I didn't pay more attention to that aspect of his life. He was always a larger-than-life character in my mind. He was playful and funny, prone to breaking into song on long car trips. It took forever to run errands with him because he seemed to know every single person in Walsenburg, Colo. These outings sometimes tested my patience, but I was always proud to tag along.

Monday, as I walked through the Salt Palace Convention Center, I couldn't help but notice the many silver-topped men and women in attendance. Many service organizations are graying, meaning the membership is growing older, and there aren't as many members joining to sustain the groups.

It's not surprising, really. The Rotarian motto is "Service above Self." My generation seems to have flipped that sensibility on its head with the "It's all about me" way of living.

It makes me wonder about the future of service organizations in general. What happens when these organizations that help to create a sense of community become extinct? Who will construct parks, host Fourth of July pancake breakfasts or provide college scholarships? Who will conduct youth events to build up our next generation of leaders? Who, as Rotary International has done, will act globally to help wipe out diseases such as polio through an aggressive immunization program?

Seeing the many faces of Rotarians from across the globe (this convention is the largest international gathering in Salt Lake since the 2002 Winter Games), it's apparent that Rotary International is a long way from joining the ranks of the dinosaurs. I was pleasantly surprised by the rich diversity and relative youth of the convention crowd.

Take 26-year-old Cris Wallace of Lake Elsinore, Calif., who is walking 2,658 miles from Campo, Calif., on the U.S.-Mexico border, to Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia, to raise money and awareness to end polio worldwide. She hopes to raise $1 million to wipe out polio in the four nations where it persists: Nigeria, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

Wallace said members of her hometown Rotary Club range in age from 24-70. "It's very addictive. You want to make a difference. You want to bring about change," Wallace said. Those are not just words. She's walking the walk. She has a personal connection to the cause. In February, Wallace immunized children against polio in Nigeria.

As in my grandfather's time, the organization remains committed to eradication of disease and hunger, promoting literacy; providing safe water and advancing world peace. It also encourages high ethical standards in all vocations, something we could use a lot more of these days.

The 17,000 Rotarians visiting Salt Lake this week represent a total membership of some 1.2 million men and women from 32,000 clubs in more than 200 countries. Their respective communities should be very proud of the service they render. Perhaps more so, they should be inspired by men and women who, in so many cultures that prize material wealth and self-indulgence, somehow manage to keep their priorities straight.

Marjorie Cortez, who thinks Rotary International's 4-Way Test is a vast improvement on the Golden Rule, is a Deseret Morning News editorial writer.

Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders who provide humanitarian service and help to build goodwill and peace in the world.
There are 1.2 million Rotary members in 32,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas,

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