Interview with Rotary President Tom Phillips
By Emily Stratton
Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down with Tom to talk about his year as president of our Rotary Club. In a fun and interesting conversation, he responded thoughtfully to my various questions:
- Looking back over your year as president, do you have a favorite Rotary activity?
The lunches in general would be my favorite. They are fun, and they are interesting because of the quality of the speakers. Also, I always enjoy looking up “thoughts for the day.” I want to make them humorous. We have enough seriousness in our personal and professional lives as it is. It is good to add levity as people are leaving.
With Tom commenting on humorous “thoughts for the day,” I had to mention that his recent one celebrating veterans had to be my all-time favorite—even though it was very serious about what “Soldiers do.” Tom said that his sister had put that on her
Facebook page. He hadn’t remembered seeing it before and thought it was very, very powerful. Maybe we ask Cheryl to include it on our website next fall for our Veterans Day meeting.
- How about a favorite Rotary moment—something that was funny, crazy or especially touching?
When Coach Lincoln Riley was on our program, someone asked him “What Big 12 Team concerns you the most” He paused, thought about it, then said, “None of them!” The audience loved it, especially all the OU fans in the room….Also, Captain Jeff Morris’s presentation was most touching, very powerful. He talked about the deployment of his unit of which he was in charge. He lost six or seven of his men, and he’s been dealing with it ever since. He showed pictures of his buddies and their families….To name a few other moments: OU softball coach Patty Gasso gave a great presentation…Our Rotary District Governor Jessica Sherrill told how she lost her mother…and then, Paula Marshall telling about the start of BAMA Pies was inspiring. I feel so privileged to preside over the club when we have the lineup of speakers that we have had.
- Comment about Rotary service projects—do you have a favorite?
Supporting Jesus House—giving them appliances, a refrigerator, a stove. They feed thousands of people!
I am also interested in how many nonprofits in our community that our own Rotarians support. Estimating that each member averages three or four, and then multiplying that by 600 plus, what an enormous impact our membership makes on Oklahoma City!
Looking at Rotary International, I am most interested in its malaria project that is starting to be pushed. I think malaria can be defeated just like Rotary International eradicated polio.
- What was the hardest thing in adjusting to being president?
Without a doubt, the time demand! In finishing out the year, there is even more demand on my time. I estimate that I spend one to one and a half days a week on Rotary items.
- What surprised you the most about being president?
The enjoyment of getting to know so many people—600 plus. That’s a lot! It has been great establishing friendships with so many people that I didn’t know before. This outweighs time demands.
- From your involvement in earlier Rotary activities/committee positions or community involvement, what do you think prepared you the most for your year as president?
As President-Elect you have a year to watch and learn. In addition, I joined Rotary in 1989, so I served on committees for 30 years and had the privilege of watching a lot of exceptional people.
- Tell me about attending Rotary’s International Convention—where did you go? And when? How did it affect you? Positives about attending?
My year it was in Atlanta, and it was a real treat! You wouldn’t believe the diversity of Rotarians from around the world—40,000 were there! It was held in the Atlanta Convention Center, which was the biggest hall in which I had ever been. Giant screens were everywhere. The diversity of people was obvious by the diversity of dress—Japanese in their kimonos, Africans in their native dress. I hadn’t quite expected that. It was very humbling —seeing people from so many countries, all walks of life, united behind our premise. It had enormous impact. Rotary International is all friendship and support. There is no conflict. I attended the Large Club Break-Out Session and felt proud to represent Club 29. Some of the attending clubs only had 100+ membership. So our Oklahoma City Club is quite something.
- Why do you see it is important for us to continue to strive to be the largest Rotary Club in the world?
There is only one reason. The bigger you are, the more people you can help! Through our membership, we have connections with everyone in Oklahoma City. These connections allow us to help even more people.
- If you were encouraging someone to join Club 29, what would you tell them is the value of membership?
The speakers, hospitality of the club, the potential for networking and the food!!! I look forward to enjoying lunch when I’m no longer president. I don’t have time now to get to the dessert table. But I will then!!
- When you look back at your Rotary year—say 10 years from now—what do you think you’ll remember the most?
Without a doubt—the honor of being president of the club.
- Any special advice for Ann as she starts her year as president?
Ann will be phenomenal as president. I would simply say to her— “Enjoy yourself!”
As a final closing to our conversation, Tom said, “The job of presidency is formidable, but the honor is much greater—and the rewards are much greater as well!!
We salute Tom for his outstanding work this year as our Club 29 President. He has set a great example of dedication to his responsibility, enjoyment in presiding, filling in for program “no shows” and sending us away with a “thought for the day” chuckle!
KuDu’s to Tom for gracious, professional and humorous way that he chaired the meetings every Tuesday. I recall at least one occasion that the invocator was a no show and without missing a beat he just introduced himself and went on with the show, and did the invocation himself. Great leadership and the ability to adapt and improvise. Also a shout out to Emily for a great job interviewing Tom.
Tom, it has been a privilege to witness your leadership this year. I wish that health issues had let me be more engaged, but every time I was, I saw your depth and strength. Thank you for leading us so well!