Several years ago, our meeting agendas included the recitation of The Four-Way Test. I have always appreciated this ethical guide and thought I’d share some thoughts on one of the four points. “Of the things we think, say, or do – Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?”
My Rotary journey began in 1972. As a young man right out of college, I was working for the Boy Scouts of America and covering a territory in the Hudson Valley. The Beacon Rotary Club met on Fridays at a beautiful restaurant, in a wooded setting overlooking the Hudson River. I was often invited as a guest and at least once as a speaker but didn’t feel I could afford the dues on my $8250 annual salary. I always enjoyed the meetings and enjoyed a number of friendships among the members. Remember that this was in New York State, so wine was served with lunch and a few members, mostly retirees, lingered afterward on the patio, whiling away the afternoon. I will only admit to having joined them once on an especially pretty day.
Four years later I had earned a promotion to middle management and made a move to Hickory, North Carolina. I was encouraged to follow my predecessor into the Rotary Club of Hickory and did so willingly. At 27, I was by far the youngest member of the club (the next closest was a 40-year old “legacy” member) but nobody seemed to mind. I was immediately named Sergeant at Arms, which included finding someone to do the invocation each week. Surprisingly, even in the buckle of the Bible belt, it was not easy to find someone to pray aloud in public. We met at Mom and Pop’s Ham House, a local institution, and no wine was offered. Three things stand out: My new fellow Rotarians were more than happy to help me make connections in the community, even as a Yankee. My membership allowed me to do makeups across the six counties I served and speak at a number of clubs, connecting with many new friends. And the club had a great practice of encouraging younger Rotarians to take widows of former club members to the Christmas dinner each year, something my wife and I treasured. After one such dinner at the Country Club of Hickory, “our” widow said this was the highlight of her year.
The next promotion took me to Gastonia, North Carolina. My responsibilities had me constantly on the move across eleven counties, so my only Rotary experiences were speaking at various clubs, and going with my boss or his boss to Rotary lunches at the Masonic Lodge up the street as their guest. I remember speaking at the club in Statesville NC. On the podium was an engraved plate that said “Speak as long as you wish, but we leave at 1:00.” The President also told the club that he did not want to have to ring the bell to quiet them during my speech “like I had to do last week.” I was brief.
Four years later, in my first CEO role in Charlotte, North Carolina, my Rotary membership was approved before I even reported on the job. Many of my Board members were active, including a half-dozen past Club Presidents. The Club Executive Director was the retired Scout Executive, and I felt like I knew everyone from day one.
In 1992, my career brought me to Oklahoma City and Club 29. It was a great welcoming club from day one, and continued to be during my first eleven years here. The friendships just kept piling up and I felt very much at home here.
A new opportunity took me to Salt Lake City in 2003, just as the club was suddenly hosting the Rotary International Convention because the intended site, New Orleans, had been devastated by the same hurricane that brought the Hornets to OKC for a season. (By the way, the Hornets’ first owner, George Shinn, was a close friend in my Charlotte days but I could never convince him to join Rotary.) Once again, Rotary proved a great way for me to build friendships in a new culture.
The last career stop for me was as CEO in Los Angeles. “LA 5” met at the California Club, a very formal setting, and provided a fascinating look at the present and past of the city. One of the unique aspects of that club was the social hour before each meeting, each sponsored by a member. I remember my predecessor telling me that a nice car was essential as we all waited in the same place for the valets to bring out our cars after the meeting. My hybrid Ford Escape somehow blended in among the Bentleys and Lamborghinis, and I was always made to feel very welcome among the business elite of that city. Many good friends from LA 5 are still in regular contact with me. One of my favorites was Judge Lance Ito of OJ Simpson trial fame.
When I retired, we moved back to the place where we had felt most at home, Oklahoma City, and rejoined Club 29. It was interesting to see what had stayed the same and what had changed in the ten years we were away. The city was different, the club was different, but the things that made OKC and Club 29 special were, and are, still in place. And many of those BETTER FRIENDSHIPS were still in place, and still are after my second 11 years in Club 29.
After 40 years of Rotary, my takeaway is that we must never lose track of the importance of the Four Way Test, and the joy that comes from building GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS.