Burton reflects on his call to ‘Engage Rotary, Change Lives’
President Burton reflects on his call to ‘Engage Rotary, Change
Ron Burton has made the world his office.
Over the past year, the Rotary International president has traveled
more than half-a-million miles across 50 countries, to inspire and motivate
Rotary's 1.2 million members. Although many encouraged him to use cheaper,
virtual alternatives, he believes it takes face-to-face engagement.
"I was the first president to have a Google Hangout and have done
Facebook chats," Burton says, reflecting on his term, which ends
at midnight 30 June. "But I asked Rotarians this year to Engage
Rotary, Change Lives, so I needed to live that as well, by sitting at
kitchen tables talking to families, visiting community projects, speaking
to clubs, and [meeting] with other leaders around the world to promote
Rotary's good work."
Burton, Rotary's 105th president, calls the job one of "awesome
and great responsibility."
"It's a great honor to follow in the footsteps of [Rotary's founder]
Paul Harris," says Burton, a member of the Rotary Club of Norman,
Oklahoma, in the U.S. "When I travel around the world, I'm able
to meet Rotarians from every walk of life and every culture. And all
of them have such a deep respect for the office." He adds that
it's been important to remember that "this position isn't about
me. It's about the job."
The job of Rotary president essentially begins election to the position
a year before taking office. Presidents-elect set an agenda for the
coming year, pick committee chairs, and work on the convention program.
All of that, Burton says, is to set the stage for a successful term.
And looking back on the past two years, he's reminded of an adage from
"There's a saying in Oklahoma that where you go in life, whatever
job you set out to do, you should always leave the woodpile a little
higher than it was when you found it," he says. "With the
tremendous support of Rotarians worldwide, I believe we accomplished
that this year."
A big contribution to that woodpile is one of the things Burton is most
proud. He asked each one of his 537 district governors to make a gift
to The Rotary Foundation. No matter the size of the contribution or
the fund, he wanted all of them to show support for the Foundation.
And they did, becoming the first district governor class to make that
commitment, raising more than $700,000.
"What we're talking about here is a change of thinking, a change
in culture," says Burton. "There needs to be the thought that
this is our Foundation and the more we support it, the more lives we
President-elect Gary Huang followed Burton's lead and has asked his
own class of governors to do the same. The group has already contributed
$1 million for the Foundation.
"I hope what we started becomes a tradition with all Rotary presidents,"
Another highlight of the year was during the Victory Over Polio celebration
in February at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi. The nationally televised
event hailed India's third consecutive year of being polio-free.
Burton was among several speakers that included Indian President
Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Health and Family Welfare
Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, and World Health Organization Director-General
What made the event memorable for Burton was a small gesture that had
a big impact. Before leaving the stage President Mukherjee walked over
to Burton, shook his hand, and thanked him and Rotary for their incredible
contribution to India's accomplishments.
Burton says the gesture "shows the respect Rotary has in India
and the tremendous appreciation for what we've done. It was a proud
moment for me and Rotary."
Sydney convention caps off "unforgettable" year.
For Rotary presidents, the convention is the pinnacle of their terms.
"I couldn't have asked for a better convention. What I was most
proud of [was] our speakers," he says of the convention in Sydney.
"Every one of them spoke with such enthusiasm and brought a unique
and powerful message that relates to what we do at Rotary. I heard from
so many Rotarians afterward how great they were."
Burton was especially impressed with the speakers on the last day who
focused on new generations and the future of Rotary, calling it the
most important message of the event.
"Our youth program participants and alumni can be one of our strongest
assets moving forward," he says. "And the speakers who represented
this movement knocked the message out of the park. If that doesn't wake
up this organization, I don't know what will."
During his final speech of the convention, Burton became emotional as
he thanked Rotarians for their support during his year. "It was
a bittersweet moment. It hit me during the end of my speech how great
our organization is and why. It's because of the people in the audience,"
Burton is looking forward to returning to Oklahoma after two years of
being away. "I can't wait to spend time with my family and hanging
out at my pool all day," he says.
Burton, who has held almost every senior-level position at Rotary, says
there's one thing important to remember when he leaves office.
"On July first, I'm going to hold only one title and it's the most