RIP 86/87 Matt Caparas
Rotary Officers’ Reunion International Convention 2012 Bangkok, Thailand, May 10, 2012
Ever since they called the international institute a reunion of past officers, there has been some confusion. I am glad to have this old style reunion again. Obviously, a reunion of past Rotary officers is not like a college reunion. In a college reunion, we rejoice at seeing again friends of long ago, when everything was fun, and we are pleased to see that we have not grown as old as they. Well, we were not exactly young anymore when we started in Rotary, so our big joy in a Rotary reunion is meeting friends who are still around. And our enjoyment comes not from reliving crazy youthful escapades but from the recollection of things we did together, and the joy we shared at doing them.
Many of those accomplishments, whether big or small, are the threads with which the fabric of Rotary is woven, and when those who did them tell and re-tell at officers’ reunions like this how those accomplishments came about, they contribute to the making of the traditions that make up Rotary culture. It is a valuable exercise in which I am glad to take part, as requested, although a ten-minute reunion is a bit difficult for one who comes from as far back as I.
My year as governor was 1964-65, the medieval times in Rotary history. There were then only about 300 districts. The governors in RIBI were called chairmen, and two of them were clergymen from the churches of Ireland and Scotland. That was surprising to me, for priests back home were forbidden by their bishops from joining Rotary. It was one reason for my considering those times the Middle Ages of Rotary. Actually, I have other reasons. Consider: 1) I was elected governor when I was a Rotarian for less than five years. The Council on Legislation changed the rule at its next meeting, obviously to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. So you may blame me for having some hand in that amendment. 2) We governors nominee had to pay for the transportation of our wives if we wanted to bring them to the assembly. 3) Before I finished my term as district governor, I was invited, and served, as instructor at the international assembly. And I was not the only one; there were five of us, although two were repeat governors, like Ed Bracher. 4) Although an instructor, I had to pay for my own transportation to Lake Placid. And, 5) representatives to the Council on Legislation also had to pay for their transportation to the place of the meeting. Yes, those were the good old days, when we had little money and were careful how we spent it.
But, to come back to my class of 1964-65, ten of us, including one from RIBI, became directors, and two were elected president: Stan McCaffrey and I. But at least two more – Bill Sergeant and Ken Scheller – certainly deserved to be president also. After our year of service was over, John Van Cott from Upper State New York sent me a big shipment of school books for distribution to clubs in my district. It was the beginning of a delightful form of international service that continued for several years, and was copied in other places. But the most significant contribution of that class to Rotary culture took place some seventeen years later, when was president. Acting on an appeal to the convention, Bill Sergeant, the vice-president, sat as chairman because Stan decided to speak from the floor, and I, a recent past vice-president, was drafted as parliamentarian. The result was an overwhelming vote to adopt 3-H as an official Rotary program, rejecting the organized opposition against it led by some past presidents. It was the landmark decision that set Rotary on the road to doing great things.
Then came the years when I served as director in 1979-80 and 1980-81. Only six of us still live. One is Jim Speer, who had also served as assembly instructor with me. After I told him at our first board meeting that I had been nominated just three months before, we agreed to sponsor an amendment to postpone the start of a director’s term of office by one year after election. His club presented the proposal at the next COL which approved it, and so, I am partly to blame if there is any director out there who is dying to serve just as soon as he gets elected.
When I came to the board, the Rotary world was divided into six regions, and each region regularly nominated the number of directors assigned to it. But there was a so-called “floating director” who was nominated alternately by RIBI and ANZAO (Australia New Zealand Africa and Others). At that time, membership growth had started to explode in Japan, India, and other parts of Asia. It did not take much to persuade the board to stop that “floating director” from floating and assign him permanently to Asia. Then succeeded when his turn came to get another director assigned to Asia, and these developments led ultimately to the current zone system that seeks to apportion directors more accurately according to number of Rotarians.
Two notable things happened in my two board years. At the convention in Rome, when I was incoming director, publicly received Rotarians at the Vatican. It signaled a favorable change in the attitude of the Catholic church towards Rotary, and we have since had a Catholic bishop elected district governor in the Philippines. Moreover,speak at the convention in 1981. And she later became a very powerful supporter of PolioPlus in India.
A rumor was also floating at that time that the amount of one’s hair was an important consideration in the election of presidents: the bald would be succeeded by one not so bald, who would be succeeded by another bald one, and so on. I do not know how accurate that rumor was, but if you knew, and Ed Cadman, you would say I was the logical choice to come after Ed.
On a serious note, there was a change I introduced as president that has survived. When officially became President-Nominee, I decided to invite him to attend the international assembly. I was told it had never been done, and there was no budget for him to attend. I said it was time for it to be done; the needed money was found; and Royce was so emphatic on the good he got from that early exposure to the system that the practice has been continued ever since.
The governors of my year are the group with whom I most love to reunite, particularly at this 25th year of our term – our Silver Anniversary. I am glad there are some of them here, including at least two of the eight who rose to be directors, led by Past Vice-President Gary Huang, the moderator of this meeting. But another truly outstanding member of the class, I am sad to say, is no longer with us. He was the Honorable Krisda Arunvongse, who once served as Governor of this Metropolitan City of Greater Bangkok.
In addition, the members of my board, of whom eleven still live, took very active part in bringing about the many things that happened that year. First off, we started the two-year campaign to raise $120 million for Polio 2005, which became PolioPlus. Some people said we were crazy trying to raise that kind of money in two years when only eight years before Rotary barely raised $6 million in the two-year campaign to raise $12 million for 3-H. Crazy or not, we went on with it, and, as you know, more than $240 million were raised at the end of two years. I am especially glad to note that, who was my aide, chaired the committee that raised more than $120 million in the United States alone. That success caused giddy celebration at the Philadelphia convention in 1988, but the class of 1986-87 started the campaign. And I had the great satisfaction during that time of starting national immunization in such far-flung places as Turkey, Peru, and India.That year, we also started the Rotary Village Corps, which has been renamed Rotary Community Corps by some kind folks with a pedestrian taste for names. It began as a pilot program upon approval by the board, but it quickly became a regular program when, Roberto Valentin, and Raja Saboo obtained legislation in the COL making attendance at a RVC meeting an excuse for absence at a Rotary club meeting. There are now 7,200 RCCs with about 165,000 members in 81 countries, and there will surely be more if it would but get adequate promotion.
The thing which I do not tire telling about is our purchase of the office building that, the headquarters of our organization. We used to be in 1600 Ridge Avenue, a beautiful, picturesque building we all loved. But as early as when I was director, it had already been too small. We were in fact storing papers in other premises nearby. In 1986, it was hopeless. One could get lost in it chasing a paper. Fortunately, this magnificent building that had been in the market for a year or so was priced down to near our reach. Frank Devlyn and Roberto Valentin started and did not stop pushing the board to purchase it until we finally decided to do so. So, now Rotary has an impressive general headquarters on which it also makes good rental money. If I had my way, I would chisel somewhere on that building the year 1986-87, and the names of Frank Devlyn and Roberto Valentin to tell the world that Frank does more than talk.
However, the most important thing that happened in Rotary in 1986-87 was the admission of women. That, too, was a long time in coming. Sentiment had been growing for the admission of women, but the opponents were vocal, and the rest probably did not much care either way. The board was in favor, and I myself had twice spoken for two boards in the Council of Legislation advocating such change, once as vice-president, and then as President-Elect. We failed both times to receive the necessary two-thirds vote, and I thought we might have to wait ten more years to get it – after the die-hard opponents shall have died. Then the Duarte decision of the US Supreme Court came out, declaring that it was illegal for R.I. to terminate the membership of the Duarte club for having admitted women members.
The board had to decide quickly what action to take. Fortunately, there were four of us lawyers on that board, including Chuck Keller. We needed no one to tell us what the court decision meant. It said Rotary membership was a form or part of commerce that people sought in hopes of enhancing their business, and that men and women should have equal access to that business opportunity. We were not happy with that premise, which ignored Rotary’s service motive, but we were glad to have the opportunity the case gave us to bring in women, which we wanted to do, without going through the COL. You might say we concurred in the result, and we decided to make the most of that opportunity.
From a lawyer’s point of view, the Duarte decision affected only the Duarte club and the four women parties to the case. No woman could, because of that decision, go to a Rotary club and demand to be admitted member of the club, for no man or woman can become member of a Rotary club without being invited by a member of the club. And the Duarte decision did not command any club to invite and admit any particular woman. But we were afraid that, in the atmosphere then prevailing, very few clubs would have members who would invite women unless the board made known its enthusiastic acceptance of the Duarte decision.So, that was what we did. We formally decided, and we publicized our decision, that all clubs in the United States, and all clubs in all countries with laws similar to the California law, could accept women members. I announced that decision at the convention in Munich, and it was welcomed most positively with great enthusiasm and applause.
That was twenty-five years ago. This year, clubs celebrate the silver anniversary of that great event. I congratulate and thank all women Rotarians, the ordinary member as well as the outstanding ladies who have been elected to high office. It is because of all of them that Rotary changed so much for the better. By increasing the membership of clubs, women Rotarians strengthened clubs, made them more active, and enabled them to undertake more meaningful projects. They brought their incredible energy and enthusiasm to Rotary, infected the men, and effectively changed the culture of the clubs they joined. They have altered the tone of club proceedings, the pace of club projects, and the thrust of their programs to reflect to a higher degree the virtues of industry, kindness and compassion that all clubs aspire for. I join you in applauding them.
I just want to clarify that Roberto Valentin and I were just the initial catalysts. After our recommendation, many other Rotarians such as Luis Giay, Herb Brown, Charles Keller, etc., also helped Create Awareness to Take Action in the purchase of One Rotary Center. It could not have been done without the approval of the Board Members of Mat Caparas and Charles Keller.
Your Amigo in Mexico City, Frank Devlyn
And, from past RI Director Bill Cadwallader:
I will always remember being givien a tour of One Rotary Center by Herb Brown when I arrived in Evanston as a Polio-plus National Coordinator. He had enormous pride with the purchase that was in process at that time. It has turned out to be a most worthwhile investment.