Since 1713, Gibraltar has controversially been a British overseas territory, dominated by the 426-metre limestone ridge rock. This Mediterranean outpost also hosts a Rotary club with firm ties to Great Britain & Ireland. Immediate Past President, John McKillop Smith, describes Rotary on the Rock.
Tell me about the history of Rotary in Gibraltar – how and when did it get started?
The club received its charter in 1966, personally presented by the Rotary International President at the time, the late Richard L. Evans, who landed in Gibraltar on the SS Independence with a number of Rotarians, on their way to a convention in Italy. It was formed by a group of influential Gibraltarian businessmen who included the late Sir Joshua Hassan, who later became Chief Minister. The club was sponsored by Aaron Azagury from the Rotary Club of Tangiers in Morocco.
What have been some of the landmark achievements for the club over the years?
That depends on which of our members you ask, but I expect the answers would be 1) integration of women into the club (what would we do without them?), 2) becoming part of Rotary in Great Britain & Ireland (RIBI) and districted, 3) our 50th anniversary gala attended by the Governor and many distinguished people, 4) or maybe just walk around Gibraltar to see the small secreted plaques and knowing we had a hand in helping the community.
Tell me about membership – how many members, who are they and where do they come from?
Membership varies between 32 and 40. Gibraltar has a significant expat population, businessmen and women, Forces, Ministry of Defence and the like, plus retirees soaking up the sun. Our membership reflects this variety.
Where do you meet, and what are your meetings like?
We are very fortunate to have our meetings at The Rock Hotel on Tuesday evenings at 7.15pm for 7.30pm. The late Joseph Gaggero was a member of the club and owned the hotel, which now belongs to his son, James. Our meetings vary with speakers, business meetings, dine-outs and outings.
How would you describe the Rotary Club of Gibraltar?
A place where like-minded people gather to socialise and try to make the community in which we live and the world, in general, a better place.
Would you describe yourselves as a typically British club, a typically Spanish club, or a unique Gibraltar club?
I would not describe us as any of those. We have mixed nationalities, some Gibraltarians, some expats and are generally like Gibraltar itself – multi-national. I’d just say we are a unique Gibraltar club.
Is there anything you do different at your meetings?
Many clubs have different formats. We only dine after a meeting once a month or so, as we are fortunate to be provided with tapas by The Rock Hotel. We have speakers and sometimes outings in place of a meeting.
How do you feel being part of Rotary in Great Britain & Ireland (RIBI), and part of a south coast district? Do you feel disconnected?
With a thousand miles and the expense of air fares, it is difficult to keep continual close ties with RIBI and our District 1120. They do visit and are always there if needed for advice. From the very early days, our club had close ties with a club in Kent hence the affiliation with District 1120. We have made many Rotary friends over the last few years and attend district conference in Kent.
What is the relationship like with Rotarians in Spain? Are you involved in any joint projects?
We have had very good relationships over the years with various clubs in Spain, attending each other’s galas and we have joint projects from time to time too.
What current projects is the club involved with?
We have raised funds for many charities this year. At the moment we are focused on environmental issues and liaise with other clubs, charities and institutions. We have just given long-life water bottles to schools in an attempt to cut down on single-use plastic water bottles. As you can imagine, with the heat here, a lot of plastic bottles are used. We also have a joint project with Round Table and Lions Club in aid of mental health.
Tell me about the Straits of Gibraltar initiative?
The Rotary clubs of Gibraltar, Tangier and Ceuta have joint projects, one per year taking turns. Last year, the Rotary Club of Tangier project was to renovate village schools and provide sanitary conditions for children. This year was our turn and funds were raised for Clubhouse, a mental health support initiative. We are about to embark on the Ceuta project.
With all the tensions around Brexit, what has it been like living on the Rock over the past three years?
In Gibraltar, we are used to dealing with frontier problems and cope with whatever cards are dealt by planning ahead. Life goes on here, it’s our home and we love it. Gibraltar did vote overwhelmingly to remain in Europe.
How do you see the future of Rotary in Gibraltar?
It is hard to encourage younger members into an ageing club, but with the changes we are making there will always be a place here for Rotary. We have started an Interact group and we hope they will one day be Rotarians.
Why do you do Rotary?
It can be very sociable and fun but, more importantly, I want to help the community in which we live and generally make the world a better place.
For more information visit the Gibraltar Rotary website