Ray Klinginsmith, a Rotary leader of the highest calibre

The first time I saw Ray Klinginsmith in action, he was chairman of the 1998 New Delhi Council on Legislation, where I was a delegate. He had his own unflappable, unique style conducting the council deliberations, having one hand leaning nonchalantly over the podium, which was quite mesmerising for a novice like me. Little did I realise then that one day in the future, this person I was admiring from afar and I, would serve together… Ray as chair of the trustees and I as RI ­president. He served as RI president from 2010–11.

PRIP K R Ravindran with PRIP Ray Klinginsmith.

In fact, years later, sitting on his Board as his treasurer, I realised Ray, a long-time member of Rotary Club of Kirksville, was one of the most ­brilliant minds that I had ever encountered. And it was indeed a fascinating study of leadership and a learning experience to sit on the Board table with Ray presiding. In fact, he was the first and only president who had his vice-president and treasurer elected by his own Board members by ballot!

The first thing that occured to you was that he was never in a hurry. The Board papers often exceeded 500 pages. I learned then that even the longest agenda can be handled, if proper preparation and planning had preceded it and Ray knew every page.

I learned how a meeting can be run, where each participant has an opportunity to opine and an occasion to contribute; that the gravity of the event can be mitigated by good humour and that to be formal and serious, one does not require to wear a three-piece suit! It was a learning experience for me to watch him preside and to educate us; to see the patience and tolerance he exercised even as he provided leadership and direction.

He placed principle and system before expediency and personality. He had the strength to face an awkward situation and tell you so straight to your face.

I saw that he drove changes which others could only dream about. The several changes the Board made were significant to the operation of the ­organisation and if he had a fault it was that he made or tried to make too many of them.

But I also learned and can tell you first hand, that it was not a crime to disagree with him as president and that if it was done in an agreeable manner, such disagreement could be left behind on the table and forgotten by fellowship time in the evening.

Travelling with him in India and the then conflict zone in Sri Lanka (the first international leader to do so), I saw the genuine interest he had in meeting the Rotarians of the world and how tirelessly he worked prior to boarding and waiting for flights and at every possible moment. He would go back to his room and again work on his computer till late and be up again by 4.30 in the morning and back at his computer once again. The result was that he was up to date with everything that happened in the Rotary world at all times. At the RI headquarters in Evanston, it was no different. He was always in before any of us and nearly always the last to leave the building.

He also had another talent that I envied. Once he boarded the aircraft, the computer was put away and he would go off to sleep before the aircraft even took off, and then sleep through the meal service, waking up a few minutes before landing, refreshed and reinvigorated for another day in the life of a president!

I was so impressed by his photographic memory, his warm wit, and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Rotary. For example, if you asked him, he could tell you who the president of Rotary was in 1922 and who the vice- president was in 1941! He could tell you when a particular amendment was made to the code of procedure and who moved the motion to do so. He would tell you who the chairman of the 1965 Rotary convention was, and in which city it was held and so on!

Ray had no airs about him, was humble in his ways; firm and persuasive and yet soft spoken in his arguments; ready to stay with his convictions, and, at least on the Board, tolerant to the views of others, and a gentleman to the core. He was kind and encouraging to newcomers and novices like me and endearing to all. He was also thrifty. When he invited the Board to dinner, you could well end up at Pizza Hut or McDonalds! He would fly economy class when some of us, embarrassingly were sitting, in the forward cabin!

At the time of his passing, Ray had been a Rotarian for 62 years. He was also the first ever Ambassadorial Scholarships alumnus to serve on the RI Board.

Like all of us Ray also had his faults (who hasn’t?) but in the final analysis, I have to say he was an extraordinary individual and a Rotary leader of the highest calibre.

Ray had a full life. May he now find eternal peace.


The writer is a past RI president

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