By Tory Paxson, Rotary Club of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, USA
On Tuesday, 13 June, we sat down in a cool auditorium in the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, for the first annual Women in Rotary Event. The four of us sitting together were all women, all members of my Rotary club, and all at our very first Rotary International Convention. We were unaware of the impact this event was about to have on us. But then, the lights began to dim.
It has only been a short 30 years since the landmark decision to allow women to join Rotary. Being only 27 years of age myself, this reality seems a bit absurd. All of these incredible, passionate and driven women I have met since joining Rotary have only had the space of my lifetime to catch up in leadership roles, in Rotary pride and projects? Really? And yet as lights shone down on our presenters, we felt that 30 years, while short, has been plenty of time for these women to shine.
The event was organized and hosted by district governors Julie Craig and Sieglinde Warren. Among the presenters was Nicholas Krayacich, a distinguished Rotarian from Ontario and spouse of 2016-17 Rotary vice president Jennifer Jones. He spoke from the perspective of what it is like having two Rotarians in the family and how he and Jennifer support each other.
Charlotte Ahlberg, the charter president of the the E-club of 2410se in Sweden, has been perfecting the art of balance in life between family, work, personal time and Rotary. She opened new doors for those of us in the audience with the concept of Rotary online. Director (and 2017-18 RI Vice President) Hendreen Dean Rohrs inspired us with stories of bucking the system and finding her Rotary family. She told us how she founded a new club when she found out the one she initially approached didn’t feel like including a woman.
Jennifer Scott of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney had us in fits of laughter with her tale of how she responded to a group of men unsure of what a woman’s role could be in Rotary. Her response was hysterically funny and wickedly apropos while still being somehow kind and welcoming.
Last, but certainly not least, was Dr. Sylvia Whitlock. I won’t deny that before the convention, I knew little about the leadership of Rotary. I probably could not have told you the Rotary International President’s name! However, Sylvia I had heard about, and knew her incredible story. Dr. Whitlock came from the history-making “Ex-Rotary Club of Duarte,” and was the first woman in the world to become a Rotary club president. We felt like we were at a moment in history when the award named after her was announced, an award recognizing individuals who have contributed to the success of women in Rotary. The first recipient of the award after Sylvia herself is Carolyn Jones, the first woman Trustee of Rotary, who hails from District 5010. I look forward to seeing this award grow in both distinction and prominence over the years.
After the program itself, I was lucky enough to bump into Dr. Whitlock during the dinner reception. She was warm, genuine and more than a bit of a firecracker, and she posed with me for a photo that I will cherish.
In a giant convention filled with incredible moments, this one moment will always stand out for me: sitting with Sylvia, and hearing her advice to this new Rotarian, one who aims to be just as much of a firecracker.