Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Her Majesty The Queen wrote in a message of condolence to the American people: “Grief is the price we pay for love”.
Those words ring true for the unprecedented outpouring of love the world over towards Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest reigning monarch, who died on September 8th.
It was broadcaster Huw Edwards, a good friend of Rotary and an honorary member of Pembrey & Burry Port Rotary in Pembrokeshire, who broke the news on the BBC at just after 6.30pm. News to break a nation’s hearts.
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Tributes followed from world leaders and the public during 10 days of public mourning ahead of her funeral at Westminster Abbey on September 19th.
For sure, there were some anti-monarchist voices to be heard reflecting on Great Britain’s colonial past and what they believed The Queen represented. But theirs was a distant hum compared to the near universal warmth for a woman whose reign offered much-needed stability and reassurance in a world now much changed since her Coronation 70 years ago.
This was reflected by the hundreds of thousands of people who filed past the Queen’s coffin as it lay in state at Westminster Hall, some queuing for more than 12 hours in a line stretching seven miles along the banks of the River Thames.
As Daniel Henninger observed in the Wall Street Journal, how in a society which now tends to be built on self-promotion and self-gratification, the late Queen Elizabeth II represented so many traditional values; reserve, self-containment, duty, responsibility, modest of demeanour, graciousness, civility, prudence and fortitude.
In a joint statement from Garth Arnold, Chair of the Board for Rotary Great Britain & Ireland, Nicki Scott, Rotary International Vice President and Amanda Watkin, General Secretary of Rotary GB&I wrote: “The Queen demonstrated extraordinary dedication and commitment to duty throughout her reign and did so with a graceful strength and admirable determination.
“She ruled throughout decades of change, from the dark post-war years, through to the new horizons of the 21st century, providing essential continuity for the nation.
“This is a period of public grief, when people who do not know each other come together to mourn a national figure who has been consistent throughout our lives and for whom we have collective affection despite not knowing her personally.
“We share our condolences to The Royal Family and His Majesty, King Charles III at this sad time.”
For Queen Elizabeth, her connections with Rotary were light. She was closely associated with the Women’s Institute and also the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service.
It was her husband, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, who had a closer association with Rotary as an honorary member of the Rotary clubs of London, Edinburgh and King’s Lynn, along with Windsor St. George and Windsor & Eton, where he would occasionally drop into their meetings.
In 2013, to mark the 60th anniversary of her Coronation, the Queen was presented with a Rotary International Award of Honour at Buckingham Palace to mark her support for Rotary’s polio and humanitarian programmes.
Then, Her Majesty praised Rotary for its polio eradication programme and advocacy efforts. She said: “I am pleased that Commonwealth governments are playing their part in tackling disease and improving health for all. Polio for example, used to cast its shadow across many countries and today, thanks to concerted international action, just a handful still need to eliminate polio.”
Judith Diment, who is Rotary’s Representative to the Commonwealth, attended that presentation. “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth has been a steadfast, inspirational presence throughout my entire life,” she said.
“In 2013, I was appointed Rotary Representative to the Commonwealth and every year since on Commonwealth Day have been privileged to attend the Commonwealth Day Reception attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and, in recent years, by Prince Charles.”
Among the many tributes, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative praised The late Queen by stating: “Her leadership, steadfastness and commitment to service was exemplary throughout her life, and made her a globally-respected moral voice for some of the most marginalised people in our world.”
Queen Elizabeth II was an inspiration to many Rotary members around the globe—especially those in Commonwealth countries.”
The organisation pointed out how the Royal Family has been ‘a proud and important supporter to the global eradication effort.
The statement added: “While still HRH Prince of Wales, Charles III engaged personally in this effort, adding his voice and commitment to ensuring children around the world are fully protected from lifelong polio paralysis.”
In October 2003 in India, Prince Charles participated in Polio National Immunisation Days, observing the vaccination of children in villages on the outskirts of New Delhi.
In 2013, during another visit to India, he acknowledged Rotary’s tremendous efforts in eradicating polio in India, as he accepted and posed with a Rotary ‘End Polio Now’ scarf for the world’s media.
Later, in 2018 at the Commonwealth Leaders’ Summit, he highlighted the polio programme as an example of successful, joint action against disease, noting that hundreds of millions of children have benefitted from polio vaccination thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Then in June this year, Prince Charles had a private audience with Rotary International President, Shekhar Mehta, at the Commonwealth Summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
There, Shekhar presented His Royal Highness with the Rotary Award of Honour, expressing his appreciation for his dedication towards sustainability and biodiversity. He also noted Rotary’s shared commitment with Prince Charles towards protecting the environment.
During COP26, the United Nations climate summit held in Glasgow last November, the then Prince Charles encouraged environmentalists to seek nature-based solutions to global warming.
“After billions of years of evolution, nature is our best teacher,” he said. “In this regard, restoring natural capital, accelerating nature-based solutions and leveraging the circular bio-economy will be vital to our efforts.”
At COP26, Shekhar Mehta, emphasised the critical role which mangroves play in mitigating and adapting to climate change. “Since then, Rotary is now working on mangrove projects in more than 20 countries supported by Rotary global grants in excess of $600,000. This work is of great interest to King Charles,” added Judith.
Like his father, and also his sister, Princess Anne, who is an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Elgin, Scotland, King Charles III shares an interest in Rotary and has been seen wearing a Rotary pin on the lapel of his jacket as an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Banchory-Ternan in Scotland.
Alan Lilley, who is President of the Aberdeenshire club, said that the new King had been a member since 1992. This followed an invitation after he had opened Scolty Tower, a prominent landmark overlooking the town which was restored by the Rotary club.
They are currently fund-raising towards a further refurbishment of the tower which was erected in 1839 in memory of General William Burnett of Banchory Lodge.
“We have perhaps been remiss with inviting the King to visit our Rotary club. He spends a lot of time at Birkhall which is nearby. We hope this restoration project will be completed next year when we would love to invite King Charles to mark the occasion,” said Alan.
In 2003, the then Prince Charles spoke at the Rotary GB&I conference in Blackpool giving a talk on behalf of the charity WaterAid.
Rotary has also been a keen supporter of The Prince’s Trust, founded in 1976 by Prince Charles to make a practical difference to young people who lack opportunities. It is aimed at those aged between 13 and 30-years-old who are in care, facing issues such as homelessness, or suffering from mental health problems, or who have been in trouble with the law.
I do hope that King Charles III will continue supporting humanitarian causes that both he and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II have historically advanced.”
Rotary International President, Jennifer Jones, was in Uganda showcasing some of Rotary’s humanitarian projects and had just met with the Makerere University Peace Centre fellows when she heard the news of The Queen’s death.
She said: “I felt deep sadness for her passing. Queen Elizabeth II was an inspiration to many Rotary members around the globe—especially those in Commonwealth countries.
“She was dedicated to numerous humanitarian causes that align with Rotary’s work around the world, including polio eradication.”
As a Canadian citizen, the Rotary International President said that most Canadians had a warm feeling for Her Majesty. Jennifer recalled as a young girl lining the streets of Windsor, Ontario, where The Queen visited.
“The streets were lined by thousands of people hoping to see a glimpse of Her Majesty passing by,” she reflected.
“It brought joy to so many, and The Queen had a tremendous impact on Canada.
“One reason why I admired Queen Elizabeth is that she shared the same guiding principles of unselfish volunteer service and acting ethically towards others as Rotary members – and her actions were in line with Rotary’s motto of ‘service above self ’ and our Four-Way Test.”
The Royal Family has always been supportive of Rotary. The RI President noted Princess Anne’s address to the 2018 Rotary International Convention in Toronto which brought global awareness to Rotary’s work and inspired attendees. And she hopes that the dawn of a new era with the reign of King Charles III will strengthen those bonds.
She added: “I do hope that King Charles III will continue supporting humanitarian causes that both he and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II have historically advanced.
“Given that King Charles III has long been an advocate for environmental causes, we anticipate Rotary’s work to support the environment might align with his, and we’d be honoured to have his support.
“Rotary has already allocated millions to environment-related projects in recent years, and we expect to expand our work—and funding—in this arena.”