By JOHN FLOWERS
CORNWALL — Cornwall resident Roth “T’ Tall this year is poised to become governor.
No, he hasn’t decided to challenge Middlebury Republican Jim Douglas for the state’s top administrative job.
Tall, on July 1, will begin a one-year term as governor of Rotary International’s District 7850, a region with around 1,700 Rotarians in 41 clubs encompassing large portions of Vermont, New Hampshire and the Canadian province of Quebec.
Tall becomes only the fifth Addison County resident to serve as governor of the district since the Middlebury Rotary was established in 1927.
“I’m deeply honored,” said Tall, who became a Rotarian in 1979. “But this is not about me; this is about what the organization is doing.”
Rotary International is a worldwide service club organization with 1.2 million members in 200 countries and geographical regions, divided into 530 districts. Each district has a governor who serves for one year, visiting all the clubs within that district to foster better communication and more efficient coordination of Rotary’s many humanitarian efforts.
Rotary’s most high-profile humanitarian campaign to date has been its PolioPlus program. Since 1985, Rotarians have raised more than $600 million and offered untold volunteer hours to vaccinate more than 2 billion children throughout the world against polio. Tall noted there are now fewer than 1,000 cases of polio globally, a testament to Rotary’s efforts.
Since it is nonpolitical and so well known, Rotary was among the few organizations that received early permission from the governments of Myanmar and China to provide aid when those countries were hit with recent natural disasters. Rotarians have been busy gathering “shelter boxes” for the homeless in Myanmar and China. The centerpiece of each box is a tent big enough to house 10 people, along with provisions for six months.
The organization, among many other things, sponsors international exchange programs in the fields of education and leadership, involving students and young professionals, and takes on numerous community projects. Individual clubs and districts also adopt villages in other countries for special rebuilding projects. For example, Rotary District 7850 is raising $300,000 to install wells in the village of Tamele, Ghana. Residents of that village must currently haul water over distances of around three miles, a necessary chore that has kept many children out of school, according to Tall.
Tall will help coordinate the Ghana project, among many others, as he makes his rounds as governor — a position to which he was nominated three years ago. He was asked to interview for the position, was formally appointed, and has spent many months training for his one-year term.
Tall realizes he will spend much of the coming year living out of a suitcase as he visits each of the 41 clubs in the district. He’ll also have to brush up on his French, as five of the district’s clubs are in Quebec.
“If I weren’t retired, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” he said of the time commitment involved. “I have lots of support from my family.”
During his travels, he will interact with club leaders to get a sense of the challenges they may be facing. For example, some Rotary clubs (particularly in North America) are currently finding it tough to recruit and retain new, young members.
“There are some clubs with fewer than 20 members,” Tall said. “We will have seminars on what they can do to enhance their membership.”
Tall is excited about his upcoming Rotary odyssey.
“The misconception that many people have about Rotary, Lions Club or Kiwanis is that membership will enhance your own business … when in fact it is a service organization, both locally and internationally,” Tall said. “It is a wonderful vehicle to carry out your beliefs and perform service to your community.”