Sir Clem was a gift to generations of Rotarians

PRIP Rajendra Saboo and his wife Usha with PRIP Clem Renouf.
PRIP Rajendra Saboo and his wife Usha with PRIP Clem Renouf.

Steve Jobs has said, “We are here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why else even be here?”

There once was a man who had a vision. He had a dream to make a dent to change the way to serve humanity. He had a plan with farsightedness; he had persistence; he had absolute faith in his conviction. He knew how to build the founding pillars to make his dream a reality. He was Sir Clem Renouf, the innovator of “Health, Hunger, Humanity (3-H)”, the author of the first chapter of the polio-free world story.

Clem moved the Rotary world and yet he was humility personified. In his acceptance speech on being elected RI President for 1978–79 at the 1977 San Francisco Convention, he said he was there “because Rotary takes ordinary men and gives them extraordinary opportunities to do more with their lives than they could ever dream possible.” In fact, Clem was an extraordinary man in his apparent ordinariness.

I am very fortunate that significant part of my Rotary journey was linked with Clem. He was the incoming RI President at the1978 International Assembly at Boca Raton, Florida, US, and I was a first-time Group Discussion Leader (now known as IA Training Leader). This is where he declared his theme “Reach Out” and exhorted Rotarians to do so, with an open hand, open mind and open heart. I was inspired.

Immediately after, at the 1978 Tokyo Convention, he gave his address and announced the 3-H programme, giving full credit to the then President Jack Davis. I had my maiden ­presentation at the convention and was speaking on ‘Voices of Asia’. I was the youngest panellist, both in age and Rotary position. I suppose my presentation brought me in personal contact with Clem, thanks to President Jack Davis who opened this door of opportunity.

From L: PRIP Saboo, former Prime Minister of India I K Gujral, Firth and PRIP Renouf, and PRID Sudarshan Agarwal.
From L: PRIP Saboo, former Prime Minister of India I K Gujral, Firth and PRIP Renouf, and PRID Sudarshan Agarwal.

The day Jim Bomar was formally elected RI President for 1979–80, we had a small get-together. I approached Bomar and congratulated him, wishing him a great year. He thanked me but quickly added, “Raja, my first responsibility is to make Clem’s year the greatest year”, and Clem was nowhere in hearing distance. A profound message that I have absorbed in my mind, and acted in conduct.

In 1979, I was again invited as an International Assembly training leader, where formally the 3-H programme was launched. We, the discussion/training leaders, were fully oriented to explain the concept of the new programme, 3-H. I remember I went in one group of incoming governors and I saw a message on a poster written by them, “Do you see the blood on the floor?” I asked about it and was told that the discussion leader in the previous session was murdered with questions on 3-H. With nervousness in mind, but with a confident face, I said, “We will together clean up the blood.” Thereafter it was smooth sailing.

3-H was conceived with vision, planned with detailed articulation, and became a perfect fertile ground for the seed of polio eradication to successfully germinate. In April, 1979 on a flight, Clem picked up a copy of Readers Digest and there he read the story of smallpox eradication. He started thinking, could Rotary eradicate another disease from the face of the earth. Reaching Chicago, he immediately contacted his District Governor, John Sever, the Head of Infectious Diseases, at the National Institute of Health, US.

Within a week came his answer, “Polio”. Dr John Sever’s recommendation came to the RI Board, of which I was a member and “Polio 2005” was approved which ultimately became “PolioPlus”. This period of 1981–83, was a battle between the powerful voices of past Rotary leaders who did not want the change, and contemporary Rotary leaders who were totally convinced of the new concept. The Board’s decision was challenged by a group led by Past RI President Jim Conway in an appeal at the 1982 Convention in Dallas.

I was there to witness a drama and never have I seen that past presidents were defeated by thousands of voices. Snubbed, the opposition leaders, including PRIP Conway, took the matter to the Council on ­Legislation at Monaco in 1983 to defeat the proposal of allocation to 3-H by The Rotary Foundation. I was on the Board — each Board member was assigned to talk to likely opponents to get them over to our side. I talked to a very senior Rotary leader, Jules Flock from Cleve land, US, who had come to my district conference during my governorship. He did not relent and I had to rebut. The proposal got through squarely and that was the sunset of the past philosophy which may have had validity till then. The time had come to open doors for corporate projects ushering new dimensions. To me, this was the milestone change to Rotary — a new sunrise. This enabled Rotary to take up polio eradication and come up on the world stage.

On a personal note, I recall that at the 1981 Sao Paulo Convention, when one evening the carnival was on the stage and people were dancing, Clem took me aside and said, “Raja, I congratulate you for coming in as a RI Director but I congratulate you even more for having Usha as a wife who is not pushy at all. Such people do spoil their career.” Quite an observation! He visited Chandigarh in 1998 and whenever Usha and I visited Australia, we always visited the Renoufs, with our very close friend for five decades, Glen Kinross.

In 2008 we were with Clem and Firth at their home. I saw with Firth a collection of theme pins of all RI Presidents and she said, “Raja, I don’t have yours.” I immediately gave one to her. Usha wanted flower seeds and they drove us to a supermarket and got what she wanted. Our last meeting was on May 25, 2014, when Clem and Glen were honoured by their District 9600, and dedicated historical records of the two Rotary stalwarts, located in an appropriate place.

We all knew how much he loved his wife June and when just after 8–9 months of her demise, he married again, we were somewhat surprised. Clem had guessed such a reaction. He wrote to me as he did to others — a letter
I ­considered a masterpiece. In essence, he wrote that he had not stopped loving June. He had been living in a unit, adjacent to which lived Ted and Firth Coats, who became their close friends, as they shared common interests. Ted, unfortunately died soon, leaving two grieving individuals. That brought him and Firth together for companionship and they got married in September 1994.

Receiving that letter we felt it was a very logical action and he rose further in my esteem. Firth was totally innocent of Rotary but soon after the marriage, picked up Rotary knowledge and became an ardent partner in Clem’s Rotary life. Clem had said that he loved and adored his parents. Though they were under enormous financial pressure following the 1930s’ depression, they were resolute to give best education to their six children beyond their home city. Clem said that in his case, extra money was paid for getting extra ­subject — Art of Speech. This, he said, was the foundation of his public speaking.

Clem was my role model. He was a mentor, friend, philosopher and guide. Clem has been the complete Rotarian, the complete human being. He is a gift to the generations of Rotary.

The writer is a past president of Rotary International

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