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August 31st 2020

Frank Bannister

Today’s speaker is Helen Perkins – Visiting 80 Rotary Clubs!

Forthcoming Speakers and Events
Sept 7th Peace Pipe Initiative
Sept 14th Michael Heney on the Arms Trial of 1970. (Michael has recently published a book on this trial).
Sept 21st Joan O’Flynn (acting CEO) and Barbara Walsh (Chair of the Board) both of the Glencree Reconciliation Centre.
Sept 28th Representative of the Scottish Government in Dublin.
Oct 19th Speaker from the United Nations (details to follow).

President Alan gave the invocation last Monday.

Rotary Rangers Walks
Sept 1st Hellfire club and Massey Wood. We meet at the Hellfire Club car park, for a
10am start.
Sept 8th. Hill of Howth
Sept 15th. Clara Vale, via Lara
Sept 22nd Bray to Greystones
Sept 29th Lough Ouler, Military Road

Social distancing rules will apply. More details are available from PP Brian George.

Hon Sec Tony McCourt gave apologies for non-attendance from Randal Gray; Bernadette Mulvey; Rana Al Damin; David Horkan; Roger Owens and Paul Martin.

At last week’s virtual meeting there were 22 attendees. We had no visitors.

President’s Announcements
• President Alan said that he has been in touch with RI President Holger Knaak and that he was hoping to arrange a date when Holger can address our club.
• The previous Wednesday, ten people attended a real event in the Sandymount hotel that Alan had thoroughly enjoyed. It was great to see people in the flesh again. Alan hopes that we will have more of these meetings, though as we move into the autumn, hats and scarves may become de rigeur.
• Alan is at the same time looking for creative ideas for on-line meetings and novel ways of exploiting the technology that we are using now that members are become more at home with it.
• On Wednesday, there will be 16 people going on the tour of Russborough House. There will be two groups of eight to comply with social distancing requirements. Afterwards, weather permitting, Alan hopes that all can convene in the garden and thence for a cup of tea. Alan would like to have an outing of this nature once a month and is open to any suggestions people may have for suitable places to go.

The Duck Race
David Booth and Delma both spoke about different aspects the duck race. There are two bits of good news and one bit of bad news. The first bit of good news is that the race is going ahead as planned on September 6th. The one bit of bad news is that it seems that will not be possible to comply with government regulations about social distancing at the venue, so the race will not be open to the public. It has been decided that this year each duck will cost €20 with four for €50. The second bit of good news is that an anonymous sponsor has agreed to match all contributions made so your €20 or €50 will be worth double to Foundation. It is hoped to film the event and put the video on the club website. This year prizes will be in the form of vouchers rather than physical prizes such as bottles of wine or boxes of chocolates. Members can place their bets using directly payment into the charity account or by sending a cheque to David Booth. Details have been circulated to members about how to do this. Alan said that, on behalf of the club, he would like to thank the anonymous donor.

Members wishing to speak
PP Mariandy talked about the celebrations for the United Nations 75th anniversary which will occur on October 24th. PP Ethna wondered should we have our own event and Mariandy said that details of this would follow. Frank Bannister said that, for anybody interested in the UN, the New York Rotary club has a regular UN themed breakfast meeting and these can currently be accessed on-line.

Delma said that the closing date for the Eirex survey was the end of this week. As Bernadette had commented, it is easy to do and is a great way of funding Foundation. Delma would welcome more volunteers.

Last Week’s Speaker
Last week’s speaker, DG Conny Oversen, was introduced by PP Ethna. Ethna noted that Conny is the first international president of District 1160 having been born in Denmark. She had come to Ireland in 1979 and fallen in love with the country. After a period in the USA, she returned to Ireland to live in County Cork. She is married with two children and has seven grandchildren. Conny had always been interested in equality, fairness and service and found Rotary a natural fit for her values. She joined the Glanmire club in 2005. She has been a member of the Youghal club since 2014. Conny works in the hospitality sector and is Ireland’s only fully qualified meat tester. She is a vibrant and enthusiastic person who will be a fine DG.

DG Conny started by saying that she was addressing us from a food testing cubicle (this has to be a first – Ed.). She thanked the club for inviting her to address us. She is the first DG to address our club on-line, the latest in a long line of firsts for her. She had been at the International Meeting for DGs elect in San Diego last February. There were 554 people present and on the last day of the conference, the first case of Covid-19 in Ireland was reported. She had subsequently lost her own job, though one positive result of this was that it had given her time to think, get organised and make plan for the types of changes that would be needed in Rotary as a result of the pandemic. One of these was to District Conference. This is being moved to the 1st of March and will be a virtual conference using a new software application.

Rotary’s motto this year is “Opening Doors”. It is a timely theme as there are so many opportunities to connect to the world now emerging out of this crisis. Some things, Conny believes, are mean to be. RI President Holger (whose home in Germany is only 200 kilometres from where Conny lived in Denmark) said in San Diego that he wants Rotarians to have fun. Holger is, apparently, a very amusing man and there were lots of laughs at the meeting. However, membership is the number one priority. In 15 years, our District has lost 1,000 members. President Holger made the point that there is no wrong age to be a Rotarian. We need to think about business continuity and Holger places great emphasis on the establishment and fostering of Rotaract clubs. The age cap has been lifted. In two years, Rotaractors will be able to become full Rotarians and pay the full membership fee. Another point that president Holger made was that clubs need to make Rotarians out of their members! Sadly, we have members who are not Rotarians. The strategic plan includes getting people to engage, to reach out, to adapt and to make an impact. It is important that we work together and Conny encouraged clubs to do this. Conny described herself as a newbie – she had been less than five years on the executive when she was elected DG. She is very happy with her team and they all get along well. She plans to set up a group to focus on what she called business continuity who will work together to get out the message about membership. One important action we can take is for more clubs to work together.

DG Conny loves opportunities and challenges. Covid-19 is one, but another challenge is that we have some clubs in Ireland with only six members. Trying to build membership in a virtual environment is challenging, but it can be done. We would all like to get back to the old ways of meeting and working tougher, but we have to exercise common sense. We need to talk to each other and nurture each other. District has not met in the real world since lockdown. They plan to review this policy in January.

Conny has decided that there will be no DG project this year. She has received several queries about helping out in Lebanon after the Beirut explosion. RI and RIBI were looking at what we might do, but Conny made the point that Rotary is not a first responder in this type of situation. The initial actions are best left to NGOs and other bodies that have the resources and skills to provide emergency short-term help. Members may have heard that one of the people killed in the explosion was a Rotary club president. There is a collective fundraising initiative by Rotary in Lebanon. We will be looking at how we can help. Given the problems in Lebanon, simply providing cash is problematic. Food aid may be more effective. She was asking clubs not to take individual actions until District communicates with them.

Conny said that she was aware that our club was an active one. She referred to the upcoming UN anniversary and said that District it is looking at ways in which we might note or celebrate this occasion. One great event coming up is that on the 26th of August, Africa will be declared wild polio free. Returning to the subject of our club, she said that we should continually ask ourselves, are we attractive to outsiders or are we just ticking boxes? Rotary should be fun. Conny then invited questions.

First up to the crease was PP Ethna who asked why some clubs were so small. Connie said that in the past, many people had ‘graduated’ from Round Table into Rotary. This had fed our membership up to about 15 years ago when this source of new members suddenly dried up. We have been sleeping on the job since and while there is continuing talk of new members, we are down to under 1,700 in District. If we become too small there is a danger that Rotary will withdraw our charter. This is current a threat to some districts in Scotland one of which has less than 1,000 members. Scottish districts can merge, but who would we join?

Keven McAnallan returned to the question of Beirut. The government of Lebanon cannot be trusted, so we have to rely on Rotary. We should be specific about what we support. Conny reiterated her point that Rotary usually comes in later than in the immediate aftermath of a disaster on this scale. Rotary could provide some emergency help in the form of Shelterbox, but initial investigations indicate that shelter is not a pressing problem in Beirut just now.

Mariandy commented on the value of virtual meetings (she is currently in London). Our club had gone virtual from day one and we have increasingly taken advantage of the possibilities. However, there are some who are still isolated and we need to reach out to them. We should also invite younger people to come to meetings and find out what Rotary is about. She quoted Barack Obama’s comment that change is something that will not happen if we wait for somebody else to do it. Mariandy also wanted to thank all of those who had contributed to the Mercy Ship fund raising. $1.25 million had been raised. Money raised at the President’s night had been used to contribute to this cause. Tony McCourt added that he thought that the ship was currently in dry dock. One of its medical officers had recently been appointed Chief Operations Officer for the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. He would be an interesting speaker at a future meeting.

Getting to Know You – Mary O’Rafferty

Mary, or as she is known affectionately to all in the club, Mary O, was born and brought up in Templeogue – at that time a small, sleepy village where the family home backed on to the Rathfarnham Golf Club instead of the Rathfarnham Shopping centre. In those days it was a place where you picked blackberries in the nearby fields rather from the freezer in Tesco.

Mary went to school in Our Lady’s in Templeogue and then for one, what she describes enigmatically as a traumatic year in Ring College- an Irish college in Dungarvan, Co Waterford before completing her secondary education in Loreto, Beaufort. A key influence in her life was the three summers she spent as an au pair in France – which developed her ability to speak French and was encouraged by her father’s (Charles Murray, who was to serve as Secretary General of the Department of Finance and Governor of the Central Bank) belief in Europe. From her mother, she learned about the importance of paying your way and so she baby sat, worked during the summer in shops and, during her college years, ascended to the dizzy heights of working in Harrods in London.

After studying Social Science at UCD her first job was in Human Resources (HR) in the Verolme Cork Dockyard in Cork (see picture) – the only female employee amongst the engineers, welders and other skilled tradesmen. Working in a male dominated environment, having to deal with several unions, being in an office immediately underneath one of the slipways on which the ships were built and dealing with a strict and forbidding Dutch boss, meant learning fast. When she left to get married two years later, she was told that there was no point in giving jobs to women if they were going to leave and get married.

Back in Dublin, her next job was in Jacob’s (now Irish) Biscuits in Bishop Street – a rabbit warren of corridors and offices. Shortly after, the company then moved to a new factory in Tallaght where many staff found the new world of the open plan office hard to adjust to. A perk of the job was an almost endless supply of free broken biscuits – something that made her popular on many fronts.

After a couple of years at Jacob’s, Mary decided to broaden her experience, though this broadening turned out to be rather broader than she had anticipated. She joined a firm called Dunkeld Holding. It was a baptism of fire as she immediately found herself managing a large redundancy programme and shortly afterwards was made redundant herself! By this time a recession was making HR jobs scarce, so she decided to re-train as a primary teacher. It was at a time when new child-centred primary curriculum had just been introduced. Mary’s first job was teaching a 6th class in Tallaght with 35 students – another baptism of fire. She then decided to do a master’s in education and this led to another new job, this time in St Mary’s primary school in Donnybrook. Her M.Ed. resulted in Mary herself starting to teach teachers and as this involved visiting and observing them in their own classrooms, it gave her an opportunity to see, and learn from, an enormous range of teaching styles.

Then came a sea change when her husband, Conal, was offered a job in New York. Having an American born mother, Mary was able to get a Green Card and was thus entitled to work in the USA. Finding a job was another matter. After three months “pounding the streets” as she puts it, Mary landed a position with a non-profit organisation that fostered women’s leadership. This opened up many new friendships and experiences as the organisation was national meaning that Mary visited no less than 34 of the 50 states whilst at the same time learning about the commitment to volunteerism in the USA.

Aging parents brought her back to Ireland and a role as HR Director for an American owned round-the-clock pen factory in Dundalk. She hardly had her feet under the desk when a claim for union recognition landed on it. To the Texan owner, unions were anathema so Mary and the MD ended up working three shifts between them to address the numerous complaints.

A year later came her penultimate move – this time to the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) where she took up a role initially as a training specialist - eventually ending up as Director of Leadership and Management. During her 11 years with the IPA, Mary again travelled, first around Ireland to Local Authorities and then internationally to a number of ex-USSR Eastern European countries that at the time were working towards EU membership as well as to several African countries with doing work on overseas aid.

After 11 years in the IPA, the 2008 recession resulted in training budgets (always the first thing to go) being cut throughout the Irish public sector. The IPA offered a voluntary redundancy package that Mary availed of. She had become increasingly involved in coaching and so began the final (maybe) phase of her long and colourful career – this time as a consultant and coach – something that she loves and to which she can bring a lifetime of experience and skill. Unlike, perhaps, some 6th year students in Tallaght, people who look for coaching, are highly motivated and are a joy to work with. Mary has no plans to retire any time soon.

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