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Valedictory Address By 2014/2015 President Peter Bearsley

Catherine, you have been alongside me all year through thick and thin, telling me truths I needed to hear, sharing wisdoms and insights that I needed to learn, supporting, encouraging, challenging – please come and stand beside me now.

And there’s one other person without whom the role of President of this Club would be a mission impossible – our Office Manager, Jo – without doubt, the best Office Manager we have had in living memory.  Jo, please come up and accept a small gift in gratitude for all your help.

Members and guests, my friends :

One receives a lot of unearned love in this job.  I have so much enjoyed greeting, and being greeted by you, at the door each week.  And, although I expected that attending all the Group Christmas functions might be a bit exhausting, Catherine and I actually found it a very joyful privilege.

So, thank you, members, for this great privilege of being the 98th President of this grand old Club.  Thank you for your friendship, your support, your encouragement, your forbearance and graciousness even when you disagreed with me.

I have had the good fortune to be book-ended by two inspirational Presidents.  I watched Keith McNeil carefully as I prepared for this role.  He taught me a lot,  and generously mentored me as I took my first steps.  I came to know Keith not only as a model Rotarian and President,  but as a wise and humble man, blessed with an outrageous sense of humour, and as a good friend.

And I know I am being succeeded by another man of energy, enthusiasm and vision – a man whose connections, networking and social skills, among others, I can only envy.  Peter Rogers will be a great leader of our Club.  He has already chosen an excellent team for the Board.

One of Keith McNeil’s initiatives – that of holding alternative, low-cost evening meetings for young professionals – has been picked up by PE Peter’s Horizons Committee and implemented successfully this year.  I think this might become a mainstream part of the Club’s future.

I am grateful, too, for the calibre of people we have had on the Board this year.  People of intelligence, articulate and thoughtful, respecting each other’s differing views and willing to tackle tough issues.  To Treasurer David Carruthers, Secretary Wayne Talbot, VPs Cheryl Lacey and Clifton Warren, Directors Marion Macleod, Ellen Kittson, Tina Rankovic, Sharann Johnson, Barbara Yerondais, Bob Fels, Ted Exell, Robert Fisher and Rob McGuirk – and of course PE Peter Rogers – I offer my most sincere thanks.

Ellen and Tina will both be retiring from the Club on June 30.  We will miss their clear-thinking, straight-talking friendship and I wish them both every blessing in their future journeys.

We have had four strategic imperatives this year: 

  1. Grow the membershipMarion Macleod has put huge effort into restructuring the way we handle membership applications and involve new members in Club activities.  She has had great help from Ian Evans with Membership Development, Bernie McIntosh with member Engagement and Clive Weeks organizing the Membership Review process.
    The result is that we have inducted 30 new members this year – the highest number for several years – and I’m delighted to note that half are female.  So we now have 50 lady members – but we’ll be back to 47 after three departures on June 30. 
    With resignations and deaths at a slightly lower level than in the last few years – and let’s remember our late PP Anne Jacques and revered member Russell Leggo – we can expect to finish the year with a significant increase in membership.  Again, for the first time in a number of years. 

    My sincere thanks and congratulations to all who have contributed to that.

  2. Engage more of the members:  Bernie McIntosh’s team has been working hard to ensure that new members in particular find a useful role in the Club.  It is vital that Committee Chairs go out of their way to welcome new members into their teams.  Every Committee position should have a back-up – Deputy Chairs, Deputy Minutes secretaries, Deputy Project Managers etc – so that every Committee member can have a role.  It’s no fun being an idle observer.

  3. Redevelop the Website: We are almost there!  We have been conducting user acceptance testing in this past week.  I think you will be delighted with the modern “look and feel”.  Tina Rankovic as Director got this project off to a solid start; and Kelton Dennis has been the Superhero who has guided the project design and implementation through to this point.  We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
    And the other Superhero has been Phil Bowley, who has continued to maintain the existing website and database and been an enormous help to me and to the whole membership team throughout the year.
    Kelton and Phil – thank you from all of us!

  4. Deploy social media: We have a relatively modest yet active presence on Facebook, where the number of “Likes” – that is, the people who receive a notice every time we post something to our Facebook page – has grown from just over 50 to nearly 180.  We are not yet as good at this as our wonderful DG Murray Verso.  Murray has been a tireless Facebook contributor – “the very model of a modern District Governor”! 

In addition to these strategic imperatives, the Board has had to tackle some difficult issues.  Two in particular.  I refer to the Luncheon Venue and the Office. 

Having been told a long time ago that the Windsor was unavailable beyond the beginning of November last year, Keith McNeil and his team scoured the town for alternatives and produced a shortlist of three.  ZINC was clearly best of them, so we negotiated the best terms we could and committed to moving here from October 15 and paid a $10,000 deposit.  About 6 weeks before we were due to move, we were told that the Windsor redevelopment schedule had been amended and we were invited to stay another 12 months or so. 

The Board wrestled mightily with this issue.  Because of ZINC’s requirement that we pay for at least 90 people each Wednesday, and pay extra for projection facilities when we needed them, we were expecting we could lose up to about $10,000 in the year.  There were also some dire predictions about losing members if we moved from the Windsor.  But we had made a commitment to ZINC and we chose to stick by it, thus preserving both our deposit and our reputation. 

I’m pleased to report that:

  • we lost no members from the move
  • we have managed to make it work financially 

For this, I congratulate you all.  We have experienced several years of declining lunch attendances.  This year, we have reversed the downtrend, averaging 94 people per week for the year (95 since coming to ZINC, despite three worrying weeks in November when attendances were in the 70s) compared with 92 last year (boosted by larger numbers for the Christmas function and Angus Mitchell Oration).  You can all take a bow! 

I hope you have come to like this venue.  Personally, I’m glad we came here.  I like the natural light, the fresh modern ambience, the excellent audio and projection facilities;  I like the shape of the room, the friendly staff, the central location and not least the river and all those athletic people gliding past.  

It has given us an experience of something a little different and, I hope, refreshing.  But ZINC is unavailable for 11 of the Wednesdays between now and Christmas so we are back to the Windsor from next week, for at least six months, depending on their renovation schedule.  I know some of you will like that.  

The other very contentious matter was the Office

After some months of investigation and discussion, the Board decided in February to take advantage of modern technology and save about $85p.a./member by relinquishing our current office at 12 Collins Street.  This was to help reduce our dauntingly high level of membership fees and thus help attract and retain members.

However, some of the Past Presidents, led by the irrepressible Phil Endersbee, wanted to see what appetite there might be among members to purchase our own premises.  And Kevin Sheehan just happened to have a suitable property on offer across the road at 15 Collins Street.  So they “took the hat around” and received pledges of well over $400,000 from nearly 100 members.  Wow! 

But it wasn’t enough – until an extraordinarily generous – and brave! – member subsequently underwrote donations of $475,000.   The Board then unanimously agreed to purchase the property – provided that the price would not require an increase in membership fees to cover the loss of investment income from the Club’s own contribution (probably around $300,000 after fit-out and other costs). 

This is, without doubt, an historic achievement.  Phil Endersbee and his team should be immortalized – if not deified - for their tenacity.  The Club has tried on a number of previous occasions to purchase an office, without success.  And I applaud the generosity of all those who have pledged to contribute.  Phil and his team are hoping that, by the time we have to settle on our $700,000 property, many more – if not all - of our members will have chosen to participate. 

We can read this as a landmark on the march to our Club’s centenary in 2021.  We are proud of our place in the history of Rotary in this part of the world.  And rightly so. 

A little humility too, of course, is always appropriate.  I think it’s the mark of true greatness. 

It’s all too easy, with our inheritance, to slip into a little complacency without noticing it.  Other Clubs that punch well above their weight offer much from which we can learn.  The youngsters at Melbourne Park, for example, have been generous in teaching us about social media.  In turn, we are providing them with some mentoring. 

District, too, offers some great resources and expertise.  We have been particularly blessed this year, I believe, with our inspirational District Governor, Murray Verso and Irene; and Julie Mason will be another outstanding DG in the coming year.  Personally, I am very grateful too for the friendship and support of our Assistant Governor, Ian Salek and his wife Heather.  I know Catherine joins me in that. 

And proud as we rightly are of our history, we are only as good now as what we do today. 

Last week our VPs, Cheryl and Clifton, gave us an excellent tour around all the main committees and projects:

  • bringing a clean water supply to a town of 4000 Filippinos
  • bringing solar lamps and portable grinding mills to villagers in Vanuatu
  • saving the lives of mothers and infants in East Timor through community education and engagement
  • having little East Timorese kids taught in their mother tongue instead of Portuguese
  • employing and training local people in Baucau to make roofing and other corrugated iron products for schools and villages
  • establishing an indigenous homelands resource centre in the Northern Territory with our Corporate partners
  • promoting “Footy Nuts” to improve the diets of indigenous children
  • pursuing a solution to the problem of homelessness that awaits 30% of the 18 year olds leaving state care or foster homes – we wouldn’t push our own kids out on to the street at that age, would we?
  • World Peace Fellowships, Ambassadorial Scholarships, Group Study Exchanges and Youth Exchanges, and so on… 

We can be proud of all these and of our many other projects to help refugees, victims of domestic violence, marginalized and other disadvantaged people, as well as encouraging young people towards excellence in their vocations and service to their communities. 

Our membership of this Club is a privilege, isn’t it. 

In closing, let me say again, a very personal:  THANK YOU! 

Thank you for the unearned love and the warmth of your friendship. 

Thank you for all your generosity and all that work that inspires the rest of us.

Thank you for the trust you placed in me - and the graciousness with which you accepted the consequences! 

Thank you.  Namaste. 

And now it is time to close the 98th chapter of this anthology.  Let’s turn the page and welcome our 99th President, Dr Peter Rogers, and his vivacious wife, Cathy – a great team!

Peter Bearsley

President 2014/2015

24th June 2015

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