VIP Guest Speaker: President 2020 - 2021 John Fortney
The Rotary Club of Toronto Virtual Meeting
Friday, July 10, 2020 starting at 12:00 noon
Topic:  John's Vision for 2020-2021
Welcome to New Board Members
What You Missed - Friday's Recording of John's Virtual Meeting and Throne Speech!
Our new Rotary year has been kicked off with a huge heart!
Congratulations again to President John and to all the Board Members – We look forward to continuing to serve with you.
We had 98 members, visiting Rotarians and guests join us on Live Stream and Google Meet combined for John’s Throne Speech!
See the links below if you were unable to attend:   
Link to the video on Facebook:
John's Throne Speech"
Remember: be careful what you wish for.
I have imagined, especially over the last two years, what my first meeting as President would be like:
I imagined we would be at The National Club and Bill Morari would make sure that we had a spectacular meal, being a member of the Club, the staff the best in Toronto, would be so attentive and happy for me. Many of you know I can be quite emotional so I was going to make a joke of it and have a box of Kleenex at each table and an especially large one at the podium. I would recognize the rest of my cohort from 1999 of whom I am the fifth to become President, an awesome class. Following the great meal, we would head to the Rooftop Lounge where I would host members for a celebratory drink.
I would have a table or two of friends, the proudest there being My Father and My Step-Mom. As most of you know, his funeral was on Monday and we only buried him yesterday. I know he was very proud of me and all of my philanthropic endeavours. He was still alive for Changeover and my official start as President of The Rotary Club of Toronto. Everything I learned about giving back to the community, looking after others and fairness to all began with him. Everywhere we lived across the Country Dad was always very involved and  recognized for his contributions to his community.
A year out or so, I thought my biggest challenge would be the transition to a new Club structure, something more reflective of our club as it is today and more manageable for our available manpower. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it. Change is always challenging, especially when dealing with a 108 year old institution. The Transition committee has worked tirelessly, starting with the Assembly team from last year Chaired by President-Elect Prince Kumar. They literally sifted through hundreds of comments from surveys, the assembly, focus groups and more. The Transition Committee was comprised of a wide range of members, including 3 Past Presidents, newer members, members with medium range tenure, even two of us who had over 20 years in the club and all members had been on a wide variety of committees. We met weekly, sometimes twice a week for 3 hour meetings since the start of January. Each of us worked independently on ideas, or in groups on top of that. I know one phone conference with Sylvia Geist and Prince Kumar went until 2:00 a.m. Nothing was passed until there was unanimous agreement. Some issues took weeks to resolve. The change is drastic, but exciting. We will need fewer Committee Chairs, but we will have more opportunity for members to participate and be involved with the club’s direction and community work. Everyone in the club who commented recognized the dire need for change and that gives us optimism that a new structure will be well received. The change to the new format was supposed to start this week, but COVID-19 has put a damper on that; more on COVID later. Whether this is implemented this year, or more likely in Prince’s year we will use the time before implementation to learn the new structure, answer questions and everyone will be able to see where they want to contribute. We have asked Vice-President Jayson to create this year’s Assembly around the new structure.
Back to thinking that Transition would be my biggest challenge this year. Last Fall and Winter I was dealing with both of my parents having cancer, I called it Cancer Ping Pong. With the onset of COVID-19 I felt I needed to be available for them and we moved to the cottage which is 30 minutes away from their house. The silver lining in my personal COVID journey is that it has allowed me to be with my parents when they needed me most. I was able to work, although Real Estate had slowed to a snail’s pace. Rotary, on the other hand, took on a ferocious pace. Many of our meetings, both boards and the executive committee were happening every two weeks rather than monthly, add COVID relief and we were attending 1 to 3 meetings everyday, 7 days a week. Not counting phone calls and other work we were about 30 hours a week on Goggle meets alone. In April my Father’s condition worsened, the cancer had moved to his brain and I had to step back from Rotary and work for a couple of weeks. What I have learned from my last two years of training for today is that Rotary is not about any one person, it is a team. I had seen that whenever Kevin or Jeff or Carol needed to be away or on holiday the team stepped in. Seamless and supportive.
The support from my Rotary family in general has been nothing but compassionate and caring. The calls, messages and check-ins were much appreciated. The virtual fellowship events that I was able to attend gave me much needed relief and time with amazing people I really cared about and have a laugh with. Obviously, this last week or so has been especially difficult and I thank everyone for their beautiful and comforting support. To that point, I apologize if this speech is not as polished as I would like it to be, but I also know you would rather hear from my heart that a slick speech. By the way, the flowers from the Club were beautiful, you may see them over my shoulder here just behind me. To those of you who personally sent flowers, signed the funeral home guest book, sent me messages, called, or donated to my Dad’s favourite charities or to the Rotary Club of Toronto Charitable Foundation in his memory, I thank you, as does my family.
Now to COVID-19!
Talk about a left curve! Just when you say to yourself, I am dealing with a lot: BAM! COVID-19! I recognize so many others are dealing with so much, way more than I was. But, it was at times overwhelming.
Starting with virtual meetings and the cancellation of the in-coming Presidents training in Chicago and then the cancellation of the International Convention I knew my year as President was going to be completely different than any thing I was expecting or excited about. Again, so many other people have had so much more to deal with, I know. My challenge, our challenge, is to take the cards we have been dealt and make a winning hand. We will be forever known by how we tackled the challenge and conquered it. At the onset of COVID-19 I feel our club immediately rose to the occasion with flying colours. If I can be half as effective as President Kevin was going into this I will be successful. He and the executive walked into this blind-sided, as many leaders of companies and governments did. Despite issues of his own, he was calm, smart, effective and successfully guided us into pandemic mode. The move to Google Not For Profit two years ago, brought to us by President-Elect Prince also gave us a huge leg up on the technical challenges COVID presented. Prince has been integral to the success of our weekly virtual meetings. Each week a lot of extra planning is involved in executing the meeting, including a practice run the day before, Visuals for the meeting and so much more.
As it is with everything we do at The Rotary Club of Toronto there is our anchor, our Executive Director, Carol. Tirelessly, she has worked from home organizing twice the number of meetings she regularly does, calls after hours and weekends all while managing a club virtually. Kudos, also, to our club manager, Belli, also working from home. Their commitment to our success is not just a job, it is complete passion for our success and that of the important work we do.
Our club has been a role model for Rotary in dealing with the pandemic. Our Charitable Foundation under the stalwart Chair, Susan Howson, equally stepped up implementing a $300,000 commitment to COVID relief. Susan, being on the executive, was also an essential participant in the countless hours of meetings.
One of the lighter, but no less important, successes of our club’s response to COVID is our Fellowship Committee. Their events have brought many of us together for much needed connection, laughs and even a few tears. I cannot stress strongly enough to anyone that has not attended one to please try. If you missed President Kevin’s farewell I am so sorry, it was a genius use of Zoom by Vice President Jayson. I had no idea such events were even possible. Other than the long wait to get in it was sheer brilliance. Don’t worry, when we can eventually meet in person Kevin will get a proper face to face send off.
When I started to think about this day two years ago I was thinking about the question so many were asking me, ‘What is your plan, your theme for your year?’. My initial reaction, similar to Kevin’s last year was FUN! On the surface this may seem trite or simple, but, after 21 years in Rotary I feel it is essential. We are all here to network and to give back, and there are many other places where we could do either, so why Rotary? Why The Rotary Club of Toronto? It is the friendships and the trust we gain. If you enjoy what you are doing and with whom you are doing it, you will want to do more. Hopefully this exuberance is contagious and your friends, family or colleagues will see it and want to share in it. You should want to share it with others. New members are the lifeblood to our success. So please have fun!
One of the inherent problems of a large club, which will hopefully be dealt with in the new structure is people get too focussed on their individual silos, the committee or committees they are on and I have always felt that to some extent all committees need each of our help even if we are not on it. If you come across a great speaker you think your Fellow Rotarians would enjoy, pass the name on to Program, they are always looking for ideas. You don’t have to be on the committee. Same goes for Membership. Maybe you chance upon an organization that may need help, say a seniors group, but, you are not on seniors committee, that’s okay, pass the info on to them. You don’t have to be on the committee. Same goes for fundraising and on and on. 
Another area I think we need to focus on as members is our Charitable Foundation. We are fortunate that our predecessors gave us this gift. Not only should we be good stewards of it and use it wisely and generously, but we should always continue to contribute to it. It doesn’t have to be large, just continuously. If someone is celebrating something say a birthday or anniversary or mourning a loved one make a donation in their honour. Belli does the most creative letters to the recipients. Consider adding our Foundation to your will, leave a legacy to the club. I think we forget about this.
None of us achieves any position or higher office alone, Rotary is no different. I have referred above to the amazing support of the executive, Carol and Belli and all Rotarians both in our club and in the District. From the get go my employer, Harvey Kalles Real Estate has been a huge supporter of me and all of my charitable endeavours, most notably The Rotary Club of Toronto and my Fund at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the events I held to build that fund. Behind every Great man is a Garren! He is completely devoted to me and to my causes, even when it is not comfortable for him to do so and I love him for it.
Today, as I Chair my first meeting and you have to listen to this long, hopefully not too boring, speech on my vision for the year ahead various circumstances mentioned above have left me presently without a President’s Pin, the Rotary Bell, or even a Rotary sign or a banner. But alas, they are only things, symbols. Beautiful and important, but that is not Rotary. Rotary is behind the pin (strike your heart), it is in you. In your heart. If COVID has taught us anything it is that.
I ask from you this year the following; have fun, love Rotary. I am counting on your support and your love of helping your community to continue this club’s success especially during these very trying times. I want your input, your ideas, your open minds. I have the daunting task of stepping into Kevin’s shoes and those of the impressive list of Presidents that preceded him. I ask for your help to honour their great achievements by making this year, challenges and all, one for the history books!