Posted on Jun 24, 2019
About a year ago, I addressed the members and told them they were stuck with me for 525,600 minutes. And then they did the best rendition of J-E-F-F ever (to the tune of Y-M-C-A).  It was awesome! Wow, that year went by fast! It’s time to reflect on what happened!
Let’s start with change, which seems to be a common theme with our Club President’s. I won’t go too far back but we can agree that it was a key theme of Susan Hunter’s year. Many of the things she started were tweaked and continued in Pat Neuman’s year. I stirred the pot a bit more and ushered in some changes too this year. And I’m sure you’ll see more this coming year with Kevin Power, then with John Fortney, and then with Prince Kumar. It’s not because Susan and Pat and the rest of us are all desperate to change things for the sake of change. We’re just desperate to make sure things don’t stay the same.
Over the course of the year many of you have participated in focus groups or committees that were trying to determine what we’re doing well as a Club, what we need to do better or differently, and, in some cases, how we should go about doing that. These are big discussions, deep discussions, sometimes difficult discussions. Arriving at complete agreement or even tentative consensus was not easy. But I thank each and every one of you for your participation in this effort. It is, after all, your Club, and our Club collectively so it makes sense that strategic decisions should be based on the input of as many members as possible.
I would like to thank incoming Vice President Prince Kumar for his efforts both this year and last year as we renewed our Club’s Strategic Plan and updated our Vision to take us to 2020. He brought his professional skills to bear on this huge effort and we are grateful.
It will come as no surprise that membership was a key topic of discussion at many meetings over the year. You know the old saying that new members are the lifeblood of the organization. This is especially true of an organization like ours that are made up of…people. We’re not around forever.
This year Lori Brazier was the lifeblood of our membership committee. It was her energy and persistence that moved us forward with the elements of the strategic plan that involved membership and by natural connection, marketing. We have to know who we are and what we’re about in order to identify who should be members and what we should tell them. This activity required some professional assistance which, once again, we found from within. I would like to thank relatively new members, and professional branding experts, Andris Pone and Mike Leon for their terrific work in recent months.
I would like to thank the sixteen people who joined our great Club this year and have already started to get to know all of you and make meaningful contributions. These new members will no doubt know Kystyna Benyak, who has been, in a way, our one-person welcoming committee to pretty much all of our new members. And if I can just remind all members, but especially the new ones, our Club is what you make it. Get involved. Make it what you want it to be.
Our Club isn’t really known for its fundraising, at least not in recent years, with one glaring exception, the Steam Whistle Fundraiser.  The people who attend this event absolutely love it. There were many repeat guests, and the new ones this year have threatened to attend again next year because they had so much fun. I’m pleased that it is so professionally run. We do this event right, and have done for more than 10 years thanks in very large part to member Fabio Ventolini, thanks Fabio!
John Fortney and partner Garren Anthony brought their annual cocktail event back this year and it was the hot ticket in Toronto, with great food (obviously here at the National Club), great entertainment, just an amazing party. More importantly, they decided to donate the proceeds to the St. Mike’s Transition Centre, generously supported by our own Foundation. Big thanks to John and Garren!
Not all the parties we had were fundraisers. We had two amazing parties at Christmas time. One for the kids and one for the seniors. We’ve been doing these for many years so we’re pretty good at it. Thanks to Chairs Karl Kremer and Anny-Sandra Hamel for their hard work.
We have a good reputation for hosting these events, just as we have a reputation for having great speakers. Our last speaker of the year, Chief R. Stacey LaForme, was outstanding. And he is a prime example of the caliber of speakers we enjoyed this year, we even had the Mayor! Our Program Committee is led by Bert Steenburgh. He, along with a dedicated team, did an outstanding job, my sincere thanks to Bert and the whole team for their work.
There are lots of things happening in our Club all the time. Our committees are often hard at work with a special project; some big, some small. Some need your help, financial or otherwise, and the organizers must do something to get your attention. One of the most memorable is the Walk-a-Mile in her shoes event, where the Women’s Initiatives Committee holds a “race” where a handful of our male members literally run to the front of the dining room and back in woman’s shoes. I for one realize the symbolism of this, growing up in such a male-centric world and how difficult it has been for women in our society; walking a mile in a woman’s shoes is about far more than just high heels. The fact that the main event raises money for the White-Ribbon campaign for the prevention of gender-based violence makes it even better. Thanks to June Brown and Marcy Berg and Chair Jane Fitzgerald and all those who participated.
It’s important to travel. We all need to meet and converse with people from other places and witness other cultures first hand. That is how we become better humans and thereby enhance society for our children and future generations. Attending the RI Convention can be a great way to do it with friends. Whether you’re there to witness a moving flag ceremony, to hear inspirational speakers, or just share a pint with friends at a German beer hall. We had great representation from our Club in Hamburg, Germany last month. Michele Guy presented on how a Rotary Club can bid on hosting a future convention. Incoming President Kevin Power threw a great party which is the custom for President-Elects. Next year, John Fortney will be throwing a party in Hawaii so make your plans early.
One of the big themes at RI this year was Rotaract. One of the great projects this year was a mentorship program between Rotarians and Rotaractors. Based on its success, there are plans to expand it next year to more clubs. Well done Jayson Phelps, and from Rotaract, Anisa Nazir for their work on this great project. Another great Rotaract partnership was Youth Day and the youth awards presented then. Rotaract member Raïssa Nishimwe did a wonderful job as Master of Ceremonies. Rodayna Abuelwafa also from Rotaract, along with our own Mary Bennett and their team did a wonderful job on the day and identifying some amazing young award recipients.
Our International Committee continues to do amazing work. Relatively small amounts of money can go a long way in the developing world. This is especially true when we participate in Rotary Global Grants where our dollars are matched, many times in some cases. Our current Global Grant project is building toilet blocks in a poor region of India. It may not sound sexy but it quite literally changes the lives of the people it benefits, especially the girls. I’m also very pleased that the Club Board has agreed in principal to have a Club-sponsored sweat equity project. My thanks to Chris Snyder for his great work over the years, and his persistence this year to help move forward with this initiative. And big thanks to Andrea Tirone for chairing the International Service Committee which is probably one of the most complicated committees in our Club.
Love is love is love. A week ago Sunday, about 80 Rotarians, including several from this Club, made history by being the first members of Rotary to participate in the Toronto Pride parade as Rotarians. It was a fitting last event for me to attend as President of this Club. It was a great show Torontonians that we are diverse, inclusive, and we like to have a good time. Special thanks go to District Governor Mary Lou Harrison and Past District Governor Neil Philips for spearheading Rotary’s participation. Members of the LGBTQ community and their allies need your support. If you are an ally, show it some way. If you don’t, how will we know. To paraphrase the words of Elie Wiesel, “when there is human suffering and humiliation, we must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
To Foundation President Susan Howson and all the members that work directly with the Foundation, like the Board, Research and Appeals and the Investment Committee, thank you. Our Club is known for its Foundation and the fact that so many members are involved in its careful stewardship is wonderful. To all the members who supported me, either directly, or by working on a great project that I was not able to mention here today, thank you! To all the Past Presidents, thank for you for your advice, your encouragement, and even your words of caution. The fountain of wisdom in this group of Past Presidents knows no bounds. To the members of the Club Board, who showed up, stepped up, and got engaged to help make the Club better this year, thank you! And of course, our Club officers who kept me in check, Treasurer Rick Goldsmith, Vice President John Fortney, and President Elect Kevin Power. Thank You! I would like to give a special thanks to Maureen Bird for so many things. She has been a star Editor-in-Chief of our Voice Newsletter, a tireless supporter of many international projects, and many other Club activities, she truly lives the 4-way test and most importantly, has been a great friend and supporter to me. To our Accountant, Belli Teetharmada; thanks for your steady work in keeping our books straight when there were 160 members trying to mess them up. And finally, to Carol Hutchinson, our Executive Director, I could not have done this job without her. From her knowledge of Rotary rules and often arcane policies, plus our own by-laws, plus CRA guidelines, to the personalities of all the members; this combination is a great asset to our Club and to the President especially, so Carol, my sincere thanks!
In conclusion, when faced with proposals to change things in the coming weeks and months, I would like to humbly ask all of you to do the best you can to set aside any initial resistance you might have. We can’t hide in a cave. We must adapt to survive, let alone thrive. To thrive, we must look ahead, plan for what we want to be, and if I can use an analogy from the Great One, Wayne Gretzsky, we have to skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is. I believe we’re on the right track. You might love what’s being proposed, or you might need some time to warm up to it. But please rest assured that it was well-thought-out by many of your fellow members, and it is intended to make and keep the Club vibrant, so that we can continue to make Toronto and the world better for another 100 hundred years.
The RI theme this year was Be The Inspiration. I’m not sure if I was inspirational, I’ll leave that for you to decide, but I’m pretty sure my sister Alison would be proud and that’s most important to me.
It has been my honour to serve as your President. Thank you.