Club president’s night is a real ladies’ affair

Morpeth Rotary President Rhona Dunn and guests at the clubs President's Night.
Morpeth Rotary President Rhona Dunn and guests at the clubs President's Night.
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Morpeth Rotary Club

Rhona Dunn was a hospitable, welcoming and unflappable hostess for the first Morpeth Rotary President’s Night with a lady President.

It was fitting to this historic occasion that an internal renovation of the lounge bar area at the Golf Club required all 88 Rotarians, friends and guests to make an entrance at the ladies’ locker room and walk through the ladies’ toilets to reach the dining area.

Guests were Deputy Lord Lieutenant Caroline Pryer, Mayor of Morpeth Alison Byard and her husband Steve, Rotary District Governor Terry Long and his wife Marion, President of Alnwick Rotary Brian Ellis and his wife Pat, President of Till and Glendale Rotary Kelvin Rushworth, President of Amble and Warkworth Rotary Dave Shoemaker and his wife Jennifer, President of Cramlington Rotary Eddie Robertson and his wife Sandra, President of the Rotary Club of Longbenton with Killingworth Tracey Bell, and President of Morpeth Inner Wheel Suzanne Hamnett.

After an excellent three-course meal, MC Michael Duffy announced a toast to the Morpeth Club by Terry Long. Terry had relocated to the region nine years ago and had been Assistant District Governor for three years.

He complimented Rhona as an amazing President, who started her year with an Indiana Jones-style charity abseil at Coniston, went on to establish the Morpeth Tree of Light and Garden of Remembrance at Christmas that raised £2,500 for local charities, supported Rotary worldwide charities, including Shelterbox and the End Polio Now campaign, and still has four months to go.

He thanked Morpeth Rotary for 79 years of community service.

In reply, Rhona noted that she had first worked with Rotary in 2008 when so much had to be done following the Morpeth floods. The 150ft abseil had been terrifying, but she was in good company as husband Jim and Mayor Alison had also been there.

She was pleased that the Tree of Light had been successful and that everyone had enjoyed it. Rotary member Jim had built the garden and Alex Swailes had made a beautiful wooden display cabinet for the Book of Remembrance. The book can now be viewed at the offices of Brumell and Sample in Bridge Street. There is already some sponsorship for next year.

There is charity wine tasting in May and more events and challenges to come.

Rhona admitted that her family have suggested that at her time of life she really ought to be slowing down, but there are so many issues where action is needed.

She hoped that all were enjoying the evening, in spite of the unusual entry point.

The Mayor presented formal greetings, noting that the Rotary International motto was ‘service above self’, in and for the community here and overseas. It had helped to raise more than £20million for End Polio Now. It raised funds for many humanitarian relief efforts, including for the ebola crisis, Nepal earthquake and New Hope Children’s Home in Colombia.

It is supporting local projects in schools, the Talking Newspaper, her own nominated charity, the Great North East Air Ambulance Service, and many others. It had worked with great energy over the years on issues such as the flood, and helped to change the lives of people for the better, while making a great contribution to the community.

There followed an address by the principal guest, Caroline Pryer, Headteacher of Ponteland Middle School. She is proud of her work there and in her office as Deputy Lord Lieutenant, with its history from the time of Henry VIII.

Everyone has a family history going back thousands of years, with many links one to another. Her response to the local and international community is that “we are family”.

She has been exploring her identity. Her father served in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the family is related to the Kitchins, who were fixed blade manufacturers in Sheffield. Her great uncle was George Kitchin, a Dean of Durham Cathedral, who examined the bones of St Cuthbert on the last occasion they were exhumed in 1899. Other family lived in and around Derby and Bakewell, where she was pleased to walk the paths walked by her ancestors 12 generations ago.

There was more family history when her mother gave a talk at school for Evacuee Day. There were tales of boarding school, London and billets in Hastings and Brecon to avoid the bombs.

Contact through other family members has led to supporting a primary school in Kenya and a visit to see how things were going. The visit found a village without water so funds were raised to help provide it, instead of villagers having to walk 10km with buckets.

Rotarians have also found out who they are and decided that they are generous and enthusiastic people, who want to demonstrate locally and overseas that “we are family”.

Rotarian Simon Foley raised a toast to the guests. He regretted that two members could not attend as they were ill and that because of the renovations, a group from Morpeth Lions could not join them. Guests were thanked for their goodwill.

A raffle raised more than £430 towards a Shelterbox to be used for international emergency. Entertainment was provided by folk singers Al and Pauline Giles and Pete Cryer, of Old English, with a range of North East songs.

The final toast to “Rotary the world over” was given by Rhona.