Who had ever imagined that we would live in a time like this, when we would be scared of meeting and interacting with our own friends, colleagues, or our favourite local grocery guy? As we quake with fear and put off all travel to the most exotic destinations on our bucket list, and cower behind masks, it was not surprising to see this tweet by Andy Milonakis: “Congratulations to the Astronauts that left Earth today. Good choice.” It got a whopping 3.8 million likes!
A beloved senior Rotary International leader who left our beleaguered planet for a higher plane in May, and who was universally remembered for his warmth, compassion, generosity and passion for both Rotary and the less privileged, was past RI president Frank Devlyn from Mexico. The speed and warmth with which tributes poured in from Rotarians across India, and the rest of the Rotary world, on the social media was astonishing. A remarkable number of past district governors recalled how he would greet them at the International Assembly that they had attended as incoming governors, his warm Hola and Buenos Dias, Amigos, were recalled, as also some magic plastic pin that he seems to have distributed to so many to keep their ties in place. Owner of reportedly the second largest optical chain in the world, he would also bring with him branded eyeshades for the spouses of past RI presidents at their dinner meets at big Rotary events.
We at Rotary News Trust (RNT) were excited to find that he had once been editor of the Rotary regional magazine of Mexico. He loved India, and visited it several times. I am sure that he and spouse Gloria Rita would have tucked in spicy Indian food without any problem, hailing as they did from Mexico. Devlyn had actually visited the RNT office twice and one of them was soon after our new office was inaugurated in Chennai, when PDG Krishnan Chari was the Editor. RNT has also published three of his books, Frank Talk, Frank Talk-II and the third one on The Rotary Foundation.
As Rotary mourns the passing away of Devlyn, after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer, we also mourn the demise of a world and a lifestyle we had once known and enjoyed. Covid-19, the tiniest of microorganisms, has instilled such fear in our hearts that for some time to come, and certainly till a vaccine is found against it, we will be cocooned within our fearful existence. Surrounded by masks, gloves, sanitisers and hand soaps, human beings will look up at every cough, every sneeze with suspicion.
But surprisingly, an organisation such as Rotary, which has thrived on friendship and fellowship, club/district members coming together to do iconic community welfare projects, gala events, funfairs and picnics with family members, has adapted with lightning speed to what this post-pandemic world demands from it. Virtual meetings and training of new club leaders are happening with dizzy speed. But when their physical presence is required, for pandemic-related relief activities such as distribution of millions of hot meals to our stranded and starving migrant or daily wage workers, street dwellers and others caught on the wrong foot by the pandemic, they are out there on the field. With masks, gloves and taking adequate precautions of course, but standing shoulder to shoulder with the local administration to tackle this crisis.
Along with other Covid-19 heroes in healthcare, police, local administration and other NGOs active in the field, these Rotarians are heroes too in their own right.