Dear Fellow Rotarians,
We are getting towards the end of this excellent convention.
I realize that I am not exactly impartial, but I think it has been
a wonderful gathering here in Toronto.
A convention is a highlight of the Rotary year for reasons that
have nothing at all to do with where it is, who’s in office,
or even, dare I say it, what closing entertainment is planned. (It’s
going to be great here, by the way — and I want to thank the
government of Canada for their help in bringing it to you.)
A convention is a highlight, because it is the one time of year
that Rotarians from all over the world are able to physically come
together, in one place. And year after year, even as our organization
has become larger, and the distances that people have to travel
to attend a convention have become greater, no proposal to do away
with the convention, or even hold it any less often than annually,
has ever gained much traction. Rotarians want that chance to come
together — even if it’s only for a few days, and only
once a year.
It’s important to us because in Rotary, that is how we do
things. We do them together. Cooperation, friendship, partnership
— these concepts are absolutely key in Rotary, and have been
from the beginning.
It is striking how little significance each individual role has
in Rotary, and that is very much by design. Very few Rotary appointments
last more than a year; it is the office, and not the person in it,
that provides the continuity.
You can’t do a Rotary project alone, you can’t become
a Rotarian alone, and it often seems that no decision in Rotary
is ever made without a committee. We work together in Rotary,
because that is how we achieve. We leverage our contributions to
do more together than we ever could do alone.
That is the idea we are built on. It is the principle that allows
rather ordinary people, like me, to make a difference on a scale
we could never aspire to in any other way.
Through Rotary, we can make a difference while still working in
our jobs, raising our families, and carrying on our daily lives.
Rotary exists alongside all of that. That is how Rotary is intended
to work, and that’s why it does work so well for so many talented
people with many responsibilities and many obligations. We are a
And that is how our team of 1.2 million members and 825 staff has
been able to achieve all that has been done this year in the name
Juliet and I have been inspired by so many great Rotarians this
year. One is my friend and hero Sylvia Whitlock, who became part
of Rotary’s history 30 years ago, when she became the first
woman to serve as Rotary club president. What a difference women
have made to our great organization!
And we have met thousands of the men and women of Rotary, too numerous
to mention individually here, who are serving with enthusiasm, dedication,
grace, and humility in every community where there is Rotary.
I would be remiss if I did not recognize the tremendous inspiration
Juliet has been throughout this great adventure. As the first partner
of a serving Rotary president to come to the job as a past district
governor, she has been a valued source of advice, ideas, and perspective.
Thank you, Juliet. We are almost done.
The six peacebuilding conferences held around the world this year
were a wonderful success, as was the peacebuilding summit before
this convention, and I thank all those who organized them or took
After the Vancouver and Coventry conferences, there was the planting
of a sapling grown from the Peace Tree in Hiroshima, Japan. We planted
it as a reminder of the need for peace in our world. But to me,
those little trees seemed more a reminder of how many people there
are, in Rotary and outside of it, who care about peace, and are
working to build a more peaceful world.
Throughout this Rotary year, many Rotarians have chosen to support
the Endowed Fund in The Rotary Foundation that Juliet and I established
to support Rotary’s work for peace. I asked for contributions
to this fund instead of personal gifts, and I want to take this
opportunity to thank all those who have contributed to it, as well
as everyone who has contributed to our Foundation’s work for
peace, through all of its areas of focus. It is the Rotary way that
we don’t always know exactly whose life our good work touches
— but all of you have, in one way or another, helped to build
a more peaceful world.
At events such as these, we tend to talk, and to hear, about the
biggest projects — the ones that affect the most people, or
involve the most partners. But every project is making a difference
— no matter its size, or its scale.
Like the hospital hyperbaric center we visited in Tel Aviv, supported
by Rotarians, which is providing life-changing treatment to
patients recovering from brain injuries — including one little
girl, who arrived paralyzed and went home walking.
Or the junior football program in Antofagasta, Chile, which has
been run by Rotary clubs for decades, giving disadvantaged children
a much-needed way to play.
Other projects helped our fellow Rotarians —our teammates
— such as those whose homes were destroyed in the wildfires
a few months ago in California. It was a very emotional occasion
when Trustee Brenda Cressey and I presented replacement Paul Harris
regalia to those who had lost their medallions, and almost everything
Do you ever think about why it is that you stay as a member of a
Rotary club? Not why you joined, but why you stay. I believe there
are three main reasons.
One is the friendship of the great people we meet through Rotary,
because we all like to be associated with good people.
The next is the work that we do — because we all want to be
part of making a difference.
The third is related to that — and is best summarized by something
I saw along the way in my Rotary travels. Having visited 59
countries these last two years, there aren’t many decent in-flight
movies that I haven’t seen. But on a recent long, looong flight
from Hong Kong to Chicago, I actually found one. It wasn’t
the movie itself that was memorable, but the advertisement the airline
showed beforehand — talk about a captive audience. It was
for a bank, and the final line in it was “Our values define
I’m sure it wasn’t the first time these words have been
used, and I don’t know about the bank, but it seems to me
that it could have been an advertisement for Rotary.
Because in Rotary, our values define us, via The Four-Way Test,
our motto of Service Above Self, and above all, through our actions.
Those values must be defended, and preserved, by all Rotarians through
whatever changes we may choose to embrace in Rotary. They are what
define us — they are what we are. They are what makes Rotary
special, and what makes us different.
Rotary is not like any other organization. But that does not mean
that we are alone in what we do and the things we care about. Rotary
is not alone in our desire to make the world a better place.
Just as each Rotary club is part of the larger community of Rotary,
Rotary itself is part of a larger humanitarian and development community
— of governments, organizations, and individuals working together
toward the shared goal of a better, more peaceful, more sustainable
And as we heard this week, those goals are far more critical to
our shared future than even our greatest project, the goal of eradicating
polio, has ever been.
Because, to quote Helen Clark, from whom we heard earlier: “Ours
is the last generation which can head off the worst effects of climate
change, and the first generation with the wealth and knowledge to
eradicate poverty. For this, fearless leadership from us all is
To that I would add that we not only need fearless leadership —
but also fearless partnerships. Only through partnerships —
working together fearlessly for common goals — will we come
to the world that we want: a world without extreme poverty, where
no one lives with hunger, where every child can grow, and learn,
and thrive — wherever they live, whoever their parents are,
and no matter whether they were born a boy or a girl. A world where
we look after our shared resources wisely, and safeguard our one
planet with care and concern.
In Rotary, as in life, idealism and reality, optimism and practicality
can, and must, exist side by side. Leaving our children a polio-free
world won’t seem like such an important accomplishment if
they can’t breathe the air or drink the water. We aren’t
working to build our communities to allow them to be destroyed by
the next round of conflict.
We want our countries, and our children, to live in safety, and
prosperity, and peace.
We want to make a difference — and know that it is going to
For that, we need to work together — and it is vital that
we Be the Inspiration.
Thank you all.
Ian H.S. Riseley
Copyright © 2003-04
Rotary eClub NY1 * Updated 2018
Design & Maintenance of this site by TechnoTouch