21st Century Rotary
R.I. President John Kenny
Scotland's John Kenny is 2009-10 RI President
Left: Bagpiper and Rotarian David Hutton welcomes RI President John Kenny home for the weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Grangemouth, Scotland. Right: Kenny and his wife June admire the leaves from their "listed" trees. Rotary Images/Monika Lozinska-Lee
At RI World Headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, USA, a large envelope is delivered to John Kenny – a Monday-morning ritual. The man chosen to lead more than 1.2 million Rotarians, whose past offices and honors include president of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland, RI director, Rotary Foundation trustee and Major Donor, judge, and deputy lieutenant to Queen Elizabeth II, opens the package. The contents include professional and Rotary information as well as vital news from his homeland: the results of the latest game played by the Falkirk Football Club.
"I love football," he says with a laugh. "When I was a young boy, my dad took me to see Falkirk every second week, when they were at home. When Falkirk were playing away, my grandfather took me to see Stenhousemuir. To this day, no matter where I am in the world, I like to know how my team is doing. It keeps me in touch with my roots." Preparing for the year ahead, Kenny of course misses most meetings of the Rotary Club of Grangemouth, Scotland, which he joined in 1970. Back on a rare visit, he has spent a hectic morning with Rotary International's video crew, fielding questions about his upcoming term as the first RI president from Scotland. As he enters the Leapark Hotel for the club's weekly meeting, a Rotarian bagpiper greets him with a song. "It's always good to come home," he says.
He greets each of the 40 members of his club, chatting about club projects, inquiring about family members. He expects no special treatment and expresses surprise that he's listed as the guest speaker.
That humility isn't reserved for the business and community leaders in his club. After he graduated from the University of Glasgow School of Law, one of his first assignments was to represent shipbuilding companies against action taken by shipyard workers. "Working with the Clydesiders [Scottish union activists] was to prove valuable to me," he says. He moved back to his home area and joined the legal firm of Tait & McKenzie in Grangemouth, where he represented the workers. "
I knew all the questions the bosses' side would ask, so I could advise the men accordingly," he says. "I also knew, by the time of year, if the company wanted a quick resolution or not. So I could tell our clients, the working men, when to time their answer. It helped them obtain the best settlement."
Kenny enjoyed his time as a lawyer, covering all aspects of legal work, and retired as senior partner of his firm. His keen intellect and deep understanding of all sides of an issue have inspired his rise in law and Rotary. "John can cut to the heart of a subject before some of us even know what the subject is," says fellow club member Colin Mailer, who has known Kenny for three decades. "He is a man with vision and would never set a target for himself or others which he did not think could be achieved."
When they met, Kenny's office building in Grangemouth was next to that of Mailer, then editor of the local newspaper. "I was returning from lunch when my secretary said, `Mr. Kenny, the lawyer, wants to speak to you.' As a newspaperman, you never felt comfortable when a lawyer called you," Mailer says.
Kenny, who was about to become club president, invited Mailer to become a member. One of the first Rotarians he recruited, Mailer is now serving again as club president. Mailer is precisely whom Kenny has in mind when he describes where he plans to take Rotary during his presidential year: back to the future. His priority for membership is quality, not quantity. "Rotary has sometimes gone along a dangerous route, especially on membership," Kenny says. "An influx of members this year, but how many stay for the next year? We must look at retention. To do that, we must bring in the right people, not just look at numbers."
He argues that if you invite a respected person from the community to join Rotary, then other respected people will follow. If you invite someone who is not respected, that could discourage others. "We have to look at our own ethical standards," he adds. "We must keep advocating the need for high ethical standards in business and private life. This is just as important today as it was in the early years of Rotary. If we go back to basics, maintain high standards of behavior in our business and professional lives, become involved in our club, then good people in our community will want to join."
Kenny also advocates induction procedures that will ensure that prospective members understand expectations for commitment and service. As new members, they should be involved in the club's work. "Membership is increasing in parts of the world where the community can see that Rotary is doing good work. If your club is busy, it will thrive," he says.
Through the Grangemouth club, Mailer and Kenny have become longtime friends. "One of the first things we discuss, of course, is Falkirk Football Club," Mailer says. "Quite often, John can tell me more about a game than I can. I don't know how he does it, but his information is good. Being a Falkirk supporter, John has a great sense of humor. The way the team plays at times, you need one!"
The club archives document Kenny's long history as an active member. A 1992 photo shows him dressed as a circus ringmaster at Rotary's International Assembly. Deeper in the archives, there's an account of Kenny, dressed in full Highland regalia for an elaborate Burns Supper, held by Scots worldwide every January. Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, wrote "Auld Lang Syne," sung at the close of RI conventions.
Long before he became a Rotarian, Kenny was a Boy Scout, and he supports the organization today. "I went to an International Jamboree in Denmark when I was 15. The effect it had on me was remarkable, and it has stayed with me. The internationality of it was wonderful – people from countries we'd only heard of, playing and working together. Later in my Rotary life, I saw how valuable the interaction between people from different countries can be."
His involvement with Scouting continued when he became president of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) in 1992. Political tensions between the East and West had eased, and Kenny decided to reach out to young Russians. "We helped to establish Scout groups, and I suggested we make up Scout starter boxes. We sent out boxes with tents and camping equipment, cooking pots and the like," Kenny says. He also helped the Scouting movement with legal and administrative advice. For his services to Scouting, he was awarded the Medal of Merit.
When asked how Rotary should help young people today, he leans forward and gives a steely, straight-on look. "Think of what we can do. Water, literacy, education, health. There is so much that we Rotarians can do to help young people throughout the world. The one thing we cannot do is nothing. We can't do everything, but we can do our very best."
As RIBI president, Kenny encouraged clubs to support WaterAid, which conducts water and sanitation projects worldwide. During his year in office, Rotarians raised £550,000 for WaterAid projects in Tanzania. Kenny has continued to support collaboration between Rotary clubs and WaterAid, traveling to Tanzania in 2002 to visit projects. In late 2007, Prince Charles, president of WaterAid, honored him with the President's Award for Outstanding Voluntary Contributions to WaterAid.
After the club meeting, Kenny drives home to Linlithgow, where a 15th-century palace, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, rises over the local loch. Inside his house, his wife, June, is pouring tea for the visiting video team. On a walk in his garden, Kenny proudly points to his "listed" trees, which means they are protected in much the same way as historic homes. Just over the garden wall is the local golf club.
He has ambitious plans for his presidential term. As his RI theme, The Future of Rotary Is in Your Hands , suggests, he wants Rotarians to take personal responsibility for Rotary's future. "On membership, for example, Rotary can do nothing, but every Rotarian can do something. There are a lot of good [potential] Rotarians in the community who have never been asked to join," he says.
Rotary clubs must consider the question of time and cost of meetings, he adds. "It's up to each club to decide where to eat, or indeed if they will eat at all. There's nothing in the [RI] Constitution that says you have to have a meal. Young people seem prepared now to support a cause, but they're not prepared to join an organization. So we must make our Rotary meeting attractive to make young people want to join." Back in the house, as June pours more tea, she's asked if she'll miss her home and friends when she travels. "I will," she replies. "But I'm fortunate. I have good friends here, and I will keep in touch with them. I'm also very proud of John."
John and June met through his colleagues in the early 1960s. June takes up the story and describes a world that many Rotarians will remember with fondness. "We just started going out once or twice at first, then we started to see each other every other week. We went dancing and were going out with each other for four years before we became engaged. We were engaged for a year before we were married. In those days, you went out with someone longer than you would today. We've been very happily married for 44 years."
June, in particular, and John excelled at curling, known as "chess on ice" for its complex strategies. The Scottish game, which is now played throughout the world and is an Olympic event, involves hurling large granite stones at a target at the opposite end of an ice rink. In Scotland it's called "the roaring game," not because of the shouting that takes place (and there is a lot of that), but because of the sound the stones make as they travel across the ice. "I played it competitively and loved every minute of it," she says. John interjects, "She was really very good!"
June, who loves entertaining, is an accomplished cook and pianist. She served in every club office in Inner Wheel, but as John moved up through the Rotary ranks, she devoted more time to assisting him. "He loves the organization," June says. "Rotary's high ethical standards are something we both believe in. We also meet so many tremendous people. Kind people. Good people. We have been blessed," she adds. "Rotary gives us the opportunity to do something for those less fortunate than we are."
John concurs: "Rotary is about helping
others. We are the fortunate ones. And to those that much is given,
much is expected. There will never be peace in this world as long as
there's poverty. We must continue to face up to the challenges of poverty.
Shortages of food and water will become a major issue this century.
Rotary is not the United Nations. We'll never solve all the problems
of the world. That is not the function of Rotary. But we can be there
to help and do what we can in a practical way."
RI President-elect John Kenny announces the 2009-10 RI theme, The Future of Rotary Is in Your Hands, to incoming district governors at the 2009 International Assembly. Photo by Alyce Henson/Rotary Images The 2009-10 RI theme acknowledges the important role individual Rotary clubs will play in shaping the future of Rotary.
January, 2009 RI President-elect John Kenny unveiled the theme, The Future of Rotary Is in Your Hands, on Monday during the opening plenary session of the International Assembly, an annual training event in San Diego, California, USA, for incoming district governors.
"The future of Rotary will not be shaped at RI headquarters -- it will be shaped in each and every Rotary club," Kenny said, "because it is for each of us -- as Rotarians -- to do what is necessary to keep Rotary strong."
Kenny acknowledged the foundation established by past Rotary leaders and laid the responsibility for building upon that success on every Rotarian.
"Each one of us is standing on the shoulders of generations of Rotarians past, and it is our responsibility to determine Rotary's future," Kenny said.
"The goals we set, whatever our action plan, it is in our hands to accomplish or not," said Kazeem Mustapha, governor-elect of District 9125 (Nigeria). "Everybody has to be involved."
Chuck Cicchella, governor-elect of District 6710 (Kentucky, USA), likes the theme's emphasis on the future. "I have always had a strong desire to nurture along young people. It's vital to us."
Kenny emphasized that every Rotary club is and must be autonomous. "Everything begins and ends with our clubs," he said. "Our clubs can and do work together; they work through their own districts, in cooperation with other clubs and districts, and with the support of our Foundation.
"But at the end of the day, everything that we accomplish is done through the strength of our clubs. And so each club must have autonomy to serve where and how it can serve best."
At the same time, Kenny highlighted the importance of the RI Strategic Plan, adopted by the RI Board of Directors, as an essential tool in providing continuity.
"The plan is designed to strengthen and proclaim the core values of Rotary: service, fellowship, diversity, integrity, and leadership," Kenny said. The training sessions for incoming governors during the weeklong assembly are all tied to some component of the strategic plan, and a final group discussion on Saturday will seek to tie all the pieces together and show the future district leaders how to take the strategic, plan to the club level.
Kenny concluded his remarks by sharing a favorite saying from his homeland, Scotland: "We must look beyond our own parish pump."
"It means that we must look beyond our own home and our own community," Kenny said. "We must look beyond our own needs, and we must be aware that ours is only one community, of one country, of the many communities and countries in this world."
John Kenny, of the Rotary Club of Grangemouth, Central, Scotland, is the selection of the Nominating Committee for President of Rotary International in 2009-10. He will become the president-nominee on 1 December if there are no challenging candidates.
Kenny is a past dean of his local law faculty, a judge, and a notary. He is active in scouting and earned the Medal of Merit for helping form new scout groups in Eastern Europe. An elder of the Church of Scotland, he’s served as session clerk and presbytery elder. Kenny was also appointed deputy lieutenant of his district by Queen Elizabeth II. He is a past president of both the Forth Valley Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Scottish Junior Chamber of Commerce. He is also past general legal counsel of Jaycees International.
A Rotarian since 1970, Kenny served Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland as president and vice president. He has served RI as director, executive committee chair, Rotary Foundation trustee, institute moderator, district governor, convention vice chair and group leader, president’s representative, and committee member and chair. He’s been a delegate, member at large, and parliamentarian at several Councils on Legislation.
Kenny is a Major Donor to The Rotary Foundation and a Bequest Society member and has received the Foundation’s Citation for Meritorious Service and Distinguished Service Award.
The nominating committee members are Ray Klinginsmith (chair), USA; G. Kenneth Morgan (secretary), USA; Jacques Berthet, France; John T. Blount, USA; Hee-Byung Chae, Korea; Gerson Gonçalves, Brazil; Abraham Gordon, USA; Sushil Gupta, India; Lynn A. Hammond, USA; Rafael G. Hechanova, Philippines; Toshio Itabashi, Japan; Jorma Lampén, Finland; Gerald A. Meigs, USA; David D. Morgan, Wales; Jiichiro Nakajima, Japan; Stan Tempelaars, The Netherlands; and Luis F. Valenzuela, Guatemala.
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