It was good to see a special session at the District 3080 conference discussing the value that spouses bring to Rotary. That a veteran Rotary spouse such as Usha Saboo, wife of PRIP Rajendra Saboo, observed wryly that finally this issue was getting importance, was indicator enough that till now Rotary spouses or partners — read women, because even now women make up barely 20 per cent of Rotary — have not been taken seriously. But the spouse or partner moment has finally arrived in Rotary and this was evident with two RI leaders — RI President John Germ and RIPE Ian Riseley raising this issue at two major events. At the Dubai Institute, Germ asked the incoming Governors “to think of how important your partners are going to be for your success as DGs.” Without mincing his words, he added: “If they are not happy, you are not going to be happy, and if you’re not happy, your club members won’t be happy.” Even at the International Assembly, Riseley, who’s been a DG’s spouse himself when his wife Juliet was the District Governor, had a few “simple words of advice” to the partners. While it wasn’t compulsory for them to be immersed in all Rotary activities, “you can be supportive. You may have particular skills that add to the capacity of the (DG’s) team. Juliet added flair to my District Conference committee, which was badly needed, along with knowledge of information technology, and she was also very good at hosing down some of my more crazy ideas!” The important thing is to complement your spouse, he said, admitting that he and Juliet had completely different approaches to issues. He liked finishing things as soon as possible and then move to the next task; she performed best under the pressure of a deadline. “I have a strong need for punctuality, whereas for Juliet, a timetable is just an optimistic suggestion! She has an incredible mind for detail, whereas I forget everything other than the big picture.” But when such differences come together in a couple, they blend nicely together to form an enviable team.
The RIPE added that the partners of other Rotarians in the District would look up to the DG’s partner for guidance. “Don’t be intimidated, just diplomatically give your opinion on the matter, if you have one.” Tongue firmly in cheek, he told the spouses not to be afraid to say they didn’t know the answer “because after all, it is the DG who is supposed to be the expert on everything to do with Rotary from July 1! But I encourage you not to contradict your partner in public and be gentle with him or her when you disagree in private. District Governors are under a great degree of stress and believe me that support at home can be very important.” The partner’s advice can also be very valuable; specially during official visits “it is amazing what you can pick up by just chatting with the rank and file”. A lot of learning to be gleaned from those words of wisdom!
But for me, the quintessential speech on being a Rotary spouse/partner came from Juliet herself, who, addressing the partners at a general session, said that as a spouse (she is also a Rotarian and a PDG), “I also learnt that paying heed to silly advice was a great waste of my time. I don’t know if any of you were advised to wear a certain kind of dress or skirt, high heels and stockings, etc.” The message was clear. Be yourself. Dismiss superfluous advice that seeks to change who you are. As a female, or male spouse, you have your own special skills and talent, education and grasp of important issues. Remain your own person, even while helping your spouse to spread cheer in the world.
[Editorial for March 2017]