First Rotary Club of Each Country



Touching a Nation

75 years of the Rotary Club of Nairobi

A Chronicle researched, compiled and written by

Friedel Liebe-Savage

Honorary Member of the Rotary Club of Nairobi

( - All proceeds are for the benefit of the Club’s Charitable Trust -)

 As the first outpost between South Africa and Egypt the Rotary Club of Nairobi and its rich history has turned into a legacy. The achievements and, even more so, the means to triumph in the face of insurmountable problems are inspirational for future Rotarians. Much of the evidence vanished when the Club archives were irretrievably lost. Amazing stories of accomplishments often based on human sacrifice and true Service above Self would have faded away, if the merits of great men – and now women – remained unrecorded.

The interest in this Club’s history from overseas and local visiting Rotarians has only increased over the years. By now the fascination generated by the oldest and most vibrant Club in this part of the world is impressive indeed.

And as the RCN never really stood alone during the past 75 years, the involvement of other clubs from around the world inevitably plays a part in this history affecting an even wider readership, which spans from Sweden to Singapore, from Jamaica to Japan, and from America to Australia.

On Wednesday, 12th March 1930, the local newspaper reported, ‘Rotary Movement comes to Kenya.’ But this history starts well before that date as every founder member had already left his mark on the colony by the time he joined the movement. Some had become legendary before they became Rotarians, such as Tommy Wood, the town’s Mayor, and the first European to open a shop when Nairobi was still called Nyarobe, featuring no more than a few rows of tin huts erected by railway workers. There was the Eton-educated grocer Rotarian Sir Derek Erskine, who wrote to UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in New York, offering Nairobi as the paradise the UN was seeking to build its second headquarters. History showed that he had sown the seed which changed Nairobi’s place from a mere capital city to a platform for world peace. Rotarian Major Sir Cavendish Bentinck, later to become the eighth Duke of Portland, left his mark on Kenya by fiercely guarding its natural recourses, while Rotarian Sir Ernest Vasey held the distinction of serving as Minister for Finance – and as Rotarian – not just in one but in two East African countries. One of the most prominent ministers in today’s government was once sponsored by the Club. He went overseas for a post-graduate scholarship only to return and become a Rotarian himself by joining the RCN. When the colony’s new optician Vic Browse joined the Club, it was barely two years old. When this Golden Rotarian died at the age of 94, his Club was 66 years old.

The list of dignitaries and ordinary mortals, who have touched this nation as members of this Club, seems inexhaustible. Researching their biographies was often rewarded by the revelation of the most fascinating details. The multifaceted life of every Rotarian in this book has helped turn a mere account of achievements into an absorbing tale of trials and tribulations, tragedies and triumphs.

Among the abundance of unique events surrounding their efforts they did not know that theirs is the only Rotary Club in the world ever to have influenced the planning of a Capital City. Over the past 75 years, the achievements of Rotarians have touched the lives of millions, including those seven thousand who, over the past twenty years, arrived at the Club’s Eye-Camps blind and helpless, only to leave the next day with their eyesight restored. There are the tens of thousands, who received medical care, thanks to Rotarians from overseas partner clubs. And in the skies over East Africa there flies an aeroplane called: ‘The Helping Rotary’, ferrying volunteer doctors to the most inaccessible places in the country. The future of whole village communities has been altered with the help of the Rotary Club of Nairobi. Several doctors from Sweden, who volunteer their time and services regularly, have marked their home away from home by building a sauna in the desert, emphasising that for them Rotary really does embrace the world.

There is no Rotary Club in all of East Africa, including the islands in the Indian Ocean, which cannot trace its roots back to the mother of all Clubs in Nairobi. And although the borders of the district have changed several times, the links between members and clubs have only strengthened.

This book is an account of the lives of more than one hundred Rotarians, who have shaped and improved the future of the less fortunate in their community. As this history grew with the Club, it was inevitable that the activities and projects of other clubs were woven into the colourful tapestry that covers Rotary in East Africa. And since clubs from around the world have influenced the work of the RCN, some of their histories naturally play a part as well.

This Club’s chronicle would be incomplete were it not entwined with the historic events of this nation and indeed, the progress of Rotary International, often highlighted in the most amazing twist of fate, well beyond the reach of any fiction author’s grasp. Many shocking events overshadowed but never hampered the work of Rotarians. And this year-by-year account shows that, despite the dazzling variety of background and creed, education and colour, career and prosperity one aim united this fascinating group of people throughout the past 75 years; it was the ability of joining hands to make a difference.

The recipe for their success, captured on the pages of this chronicle, will no doubt encourage future generations to live up to their predecessors’ triumphs. Rotary has just celebrated its 100th anniversary and there are now more than one and a quarter million Rotarians around the world. Yet it seems that, despite the countless Club histories that are produced regularly, none has ever embraced a peoples’ bleakest and proudest moments to record for posterity the way Rotarians have touched their nation


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