A Marathon Man

Ever energetic and enthusiastic, never tiring, physically and emotionally, a man of a long race, was Carlo Ravizza. Possessing multi-skills, some of them family traits, he had an active 96-year life span. I have always enjoyed his company as a companion and co-traveller on his Rotary journey.

PRIP Rajendra Saboo with PRIP Carlo Ravizza and his wife Rossana during one of their visits to Delhi.
PRIP Rajendra Saboo with PRIP Carlo Ravizza and his wife Rossana during one of their visits to Delhi.

Carlo was born in Milan, Italy to a prosperous family. His father, also Carlo, was born in St Gallen, Switzerland. Carlo senior migrated to Milan after World War I. Growing up in a bilingual environment and attending different international schools, Carlo become a linguist and quickly learned French, English and Portuguese. Carlo’s father was an architect, and his son inherited the business as also the values of honesty and integrity. Expanding his undertaking, and facing tension, at times he neglected his family. A friend advised him to join Rotary to ease his tension. Thus, in 1971 he became a member of the Rotary Club of Milano Sud-Ovest, Italy. Soon he became its president for 1972–74, and district governor in 1977–78. I was district governor in 1976–77 and we met around that period. I was Rotary International director in 1981–83 and he in 1984–86. During these years we had frequent interactions. I used to travel to South Germany on business through Zurich. Frequently, I would break for 2–3 days in Luzern in Switzerland. Carlo had his home and office around Luzern, and I would visit him for lunch. If Usha was with me Rossana would also join. And they enjoyed cooking vegetarian food for us. Of course, we talked substantially about Rotary, including its philosophy. We both shared the feeling that Rotary had been a teacher in life.

When I got nominated as RI president I had to quickly decide the Convention committee. The Convention was originally slated to be in Barcelona but the city was not ready and likely it would be changed, the alternative option being Orlando, Florida, US. I appointed Carlo vice-chairman of the Convention. As an architect and civil engineer, he would check the feasibility at Barcelona and if the venue was Orlando, he would help in site logistics. I had full confidence in him and his multipe skills.

In the meanwhile, Carlo’s Rotary career got disturbed. For RI president (1993–94) his name was proposed by his district. Instead, Robert Barth of Switzerland got nominated. I, as RI president, was attending the combined Rotary Institute for RIBI and Europe in 1991 at London. Carlo expressed to me his total disappointment. Speaking at the Institute, he openly expressed his emotions of depression with tears in his eyes. Later, I consoled him that with his qualities and experience he surely would get the chance when the Nominating Committee would think of Europe.

He did get nominated in 1998 to become the RI president for 1999–2000. In fact, this, being the advent of the new millennium, it became a very significant year. At his International Assembly he announced the forward looking theme “Rotary 2000: Act with Consistency, Credibility, Continuity”.

Carlo chose Jonathan Majiyagbe, who later became RI president, as his aide. Carlo had been impressed by Jon’s performance as TRF trustee appointed earlier by RI President Robert Barth. Also Carlo and Jonathan were good friends. Carlo confided that he wanted to have an intellectual, enlightened and knowledgeable Rotary leader from Africa. Jonathan filled that slot and became his confidant and adviser. As RI president, Carlo flowed the idea of a three-year term for an RI president in the future. The idea was incompatible. Nonetheless, that was his vision.

Carlo visited India many times. He was passionate about polio eradication. India was the world capital of polio virus transmission and Carlo visited it before getting into the presidency circuit. Carlo and Rossana came to attend the Rotary Institute 1998 under the chairmanship of Kalyan Banerjee, then RI director. They arrived few days earlier to attend the 7th Rotary Awards for Service to Humanity on Dec 9, 1998. After the Institute Carlo and Rossana left for Italy.

Within a few days, Carlo, with Rossana, returned as RI president-nominee to attend the CoL in Delhi from Jan 12–16, 1998. Thereafter, as friend, Carlo and Rossana came to Chandigarh. He did participate as chief guest at the installation of an Interact club in a school and also at the career seminar. They left Chandigarh for Delhi, accompanied by me, and we halted at late PRID Y P Das’s residence at Ambala. We stayed in Delhi and watched the famous Republic Day parade.

PRIP Ravizza, as TRF chair, along with the then RI President Glenn Estess (fourth from R), at the RI  Presidential Polio Summit held in Delhi in 2004, for which the then President of India Dr A P J Abdul Kalam was the chief guest. Also seen  (from L):  Vinita Gupta, PRIP Saboo, Rossana, PRID Sushil Gupta, PRID Sudarshan Agarwal and PRIP Kalyan Banerjee.
PRIP Ravizza, as TRF chair, along with the then RI President Glenn Estess (fourth from R), at the RI Presidential Polio Summit held in Delhi in 2004, for which the then President of India Dr A P J Abdul Kalam was the chief guest. Also seen (from L): Vinita Gupta, PRIP Saboo, Rossana, PRID Sushil Gupta, PRID Sudarshan Agarwal and PRIP Kalyan Banerjee.

Carlo as RI president-elect went to Pakistan in January 1999 and on Jan 29, from Lahore they crossed the Wagha (Attari border) and DG Riaz and DGN Akhnoor bid them farewell. With DG Arun Kapur and other District 3070 leaders, and their wives, I received them. They walked a few metres from Pakistan to India and at common land, got the salutation from the border police of both the countries. After a big meeting in Amritsar Carlo and Rossana, escorted by me, took the Shatabdi to New Delhi. DG Sanjeev Khanna, Sushil Gupta, DGE Ranjan Dhingra and other Rotary leaders received us at the station.

Carlo as RI president came to Kolkata on April 2, 1999, and was received by RI President Shekhar Mehta, then DGE in Carlo’s team. The couple stayed under Shekhar’s care visiting projects and inaugurating a Rotary hospital.

As TRF chair he came to Delhi to attend the RI Presidential Polio Summit in August 2004, joining RI President Glenn Estess. The event was held under the leadership of then RI Director Sushil Gupta. President of India A P J Abdul Kalam was the chief guest and PRIP Banerjee was also there. We visited both the President of India and also Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Carlo had come to attend the Rotary Institute in Chennai in December 2002. Addressing the audience, mostly past governors, he said, “I have done 55 district conferences as RI president’s representative….” Later, as a friend, I told him that most of the past governors had not served as RI president’s representative even once. He immediately realised what he had done and sincerely thanked me for the advice.

I knew Carlo as a practical visionary. He had a vision and being a civil engineer realised that visions need foundation on reality. Yet he never compromised his ideals. At times he was misunderstood as rough but within he had an angelic heart. Rossana always neutralised his exterior. She has been an extremely warmhearted person. She always called me Mr President. Usha and I remember the couple as one of our best friends.

Once in Evanston, I asked him where he went for his morning walk. He said, “To Chicago, about 15 miles away.” On asking how did he return, he replied, “Same, walking.” Indeed, Carlo was a marathon walker. Not winning against anyone but challenging himself. He was truly a marathoner in life.

The writer is a past RI president

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