It’s not often you get a Hollywood celebrity joining your Rotary club, but that’s what happened to the Rotary Club of Ballymena in Northern Ireland.
To mark the 80th anniversary of the County Antrim-based club, they conferred an honorary membership on film star Liam Neeson, who grew up in Ballymena and whose family has close links to the Rotary club.
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Lynda Bell, the club’s membership chair explained: “Liam Neeson’s family are well-known in the town of Ballymena. Indeed, some of the family members are stalwart supporters of our Rotary club events.
“As membership chair, I discussed with the family the proposal to confer honorary membership on Liam, who had attended Northern Regional College, the same school as myself.
“I subsequently contacted his PA in New York, setting out the club’s ethos and the various community projects and youth activities in which it engages.
“Needless to say, I was delighted when the reply came back within 24 hours, stating that Liam ‘humbly accepted our invitation’.”
The Rotary Club of Ballymena is one of 70 clubs in District 1160, receiving its charter on September 27, 1943. Members, former members and friends attended a celebratory dinner in the Adair Arms Hotel in the company of the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna, and Rotary Ireland District Governor, Kenny Fisher.
At the dinner, Lynda told the audience that honorary membership was a special award and it was being offered to the Hollywood star in recognition of his outstanding achievements over a long and distinguished career.
She told guests: “In addition to numerous accolades in the film industry, Liam’s commitment to charitable causes, particularly UNICEF, embodies the very essence of Rotary and ‘service above self’.
“Liam has volunteered with UNICEF for over 20 years and as a goodwill ambassador for the charity he has visited Mozambique and, more recently, Jordan, to meet children affected by the Syrian crisis.”
Although unable to join the event, Liam sent a video message from his home in New York. He said: “I want to pass on my heartiest congratulations to the Rotary Club of Ballymena on this, your 80th anniversary; 80 years of service to the community is a magnificent achievement.
“I pay tribute to those founding members who had the courage and vision to establish the club in 1943, right in the middle of the Second World War.
“I commend your members today who share that same commitment to improve the lives and conditions of people in my great hometown of Ballymena and across the world.
“I am deeply honoured to accept your invitation to become an honorary member and wish you continued success in the years ahead.”
Following this message, his honorary certificate and Rotary lapel pin were presented to Liam’s two sisters, Elizabeth Connaughton and Bernadette Sexton, who were present on the evening.
The honorary certificate, along with a photograph of Liam receiving the certificate, went on display at a Rotary exhibition held in the Braid Arts Centre Town Hall during the first two weeks of October.
You can watch Liam’s video message to the Rotary Club of Ballymena here.