Once upon a Rotary writer

THE Supreme Court's ruling that the ladies may become Rotarians has my ardent support. I was exposed to Rotary in my youth but never joined, and I say if a woman wants to belong it's her own business and I'm all for it. Several journalists whom I've known over the years have told me they owe their lives to Rotary - that once a week they would go to ``cover'' the luncheon, and the free meal that went with such loyalty kept them from starvation.

With me, my editor was himself a Rotarian and went to every meeting. So I didn't have to go, but because my editor couldn't write, I had to do the weekly story for him, less nourishment. He wasn't much of a judge of news values, either, and when he would tell me what went on at a Rotary Club meeting so I could write the story for him, he often neglected important things.

He told me one time that the speaker that day had been an engineer of some sort, he hadn't bothered to jot down the name, and I found out for myself that the speaker had been former President Herbert Hoover. Now and then I would hear a visitor to the newspaper office commend my editor for the high quality of his weekly Rotary reports, but there were also a few good Rotarians who knew the difference - they were the ones who told me what really went on. I went to the hotel where the luncheons were held a few times, standing in the kitchen by the waitresses' doors, so I understood how the meetings went.

The only fun I ever had over that kind of Rotary was with the visitors. When a Rotarian misses a meeting, he is expected to ``make up.'' So in the summertime vacationists would come and get credit as visitors, and my editor would give me a list of their names for my story. These were almost all transients and one-timers, so their names meant nothing in our local paper, and I always stuck in a few extra names for fun. People I knew here and there, like the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Viceroy of India. Nobody ever noticed that I did this.

Years later I was invited to speak to a Rotary Club, and I told the members they were outnumbered. Allowing for Ladies' Night, the annual picnic, and the annual meeting, a Rotary Club has 49 speakers a year. At that time the average membership of Rotary Clubs was 45 members, worldwide. So there are more speakers than there are Rotarians.

One week the speaker at ``our'' Rotary luncheon was a memory expert. He was promoting a mail-order course that would help the businessman, and my editor came back to the office to tell me about him, and he said the man was simply incredible. He stood by the door as members came in, asked their names, and after the luncheon he called every member by his right name. An amazing performance. My editor couldn't remember what the man's name was.

The paper wasn't paying me all that much back in those days, and a free lunch once a week would have done me a lot of good. I did talk to the chef at the hotel about his Rotary menus, and he told me about a few tricks they do in the kitchen so they can make a penny on a Rotary serving, even if they knock off 50 cents a head. There are several ways, I learned, to make creamed-chicken patties.

Then one day after I had been writing the Rotary Club luncheon stories, in absentia, for a number of years, I was sitting at my typewriter in the throes of high-class creativity, and an affable man came in off the street to inquire if he might have a word with me.

He said he was from Rotary International, and he hoped that I knew something about the organization. I said I did; I knew a lot about it. He said that was great. He said Rotary International was a fine aggregation of good people who advanced a noble cause in all directions. All members are proud to belong, he said, and until now membership has been a restricted matter. ``As you no doubt know,'' he said, ``only one man from any business or profession is eligible to join. One lawyer, one schoolteacher, one clothing store man, and so on. It's most exclusive.''

I said I understood that, and since my editor represented journalism, nobody else from our little paper could belong.

``Yes,'' he said. Then he said there had been a change. Now the categories were expanded, and there could be an editor, a reporter, a photographer, and so on. ``In short,'' he said, ``the bars have been let down, and we would like you to join Rotary.''

I never did, and now the Supreme Court has lowered the bar (a pun there?) again, and I wish the ladies every joy as Rotarians!

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