Hello. My name is Robert Macduff-Duncan, and I had the enormous privilege of being the President of the Rotary Club of Perth St Johns in for 2019/2020. I am about to hand over the reins to my estimable Vice-President, Shona Weir, and I have been asked to share my Rotary story with you.
A bit about me – I was born in a military hospital in Germany, back in the days of the British Army of the Rhine, and my father’s regimental magazine hailed my birth as “future recruitment going well”! I grew up in Crieff until the age of 6 and thereafter in Inverness until I left for university at 18. After a fun 5 years in Dundee acquiring a degree in Law and History and a Diploma in Legal Practice, I moved to Perth in May 2003, to start work with a local firm of solicitors.
My boss back then was (and remains) very much of the view that members of the legal profession should serve the community in which they live by supporting charities serving the same community. In 2005, following an introduction by my boss, I became a director of Perth & Kinross Association of Voluntary Service. I am still on the board of PKAVS, and it is one of the most fulfilling parts of my working life. The staff of that organisation work tirelessly to support unpaid carers (including young carers), those recovering from mental ill-health, migrant and minority communities and the wider voluntary sector. It is a diverse charity with a great deal of influence and impact locally, and it has changed significantly over the last 15 years. I am the link director between the board and the Shopmobility service, run by Dave and his enthusiastic volunteers from the Canal Street car park, where PKAVS lend motorised scooters and wheelchairs to people with mobility problems, to give them independence and freedom to visit shops and businesses in the city centre.
Directors, theoretically, serve for a maximum of 9 years on PKAVS’s Board, so I temporarily retired (remaining as the representative of the company secretary, my firm) for a year in 2014. Shortly thereafter, I was approached by two PKAVS colleagues, fellow board member Gail Mackay and Chief Executive Helen Mackinnon about joining Rotary. Helen was the President in 2014/15, and Gail later served as President for an 18 month term from 2017-2018. I was asked to join them for lunch one day, Helen tempted me with talk about a recent visit the club had made to the Tunnock’s factory, and that was enough to get me to sign on the dotted line. I was quite unwell that year, so it took me a while to follow up that initial visit, but I was eventually admitted to the Club in September 2015.
Rotary appealed to me at a fundamental level - the mix of “service” to the community and “fellowship” (which just means having a good time with one’s friends) is just my sort of thing. St Johns appealed because they don’t approach the good things they do with any sense of self-importance. It is a club with a sense of humour, and an irreverence. We raise money for charity, we carry out community projects, but we do it mostly because we enjoy it. We enjoy each other’s company.
It is also a very welcoming and friendly club. Some of our members have been in the club for 40 years, others, like me, for less than five. Whilst the club gels well, it is not clique-ish. New members are the life blood of the club, and are made to feel very welcome, and part of the gang, from the off. Perhaps it is the Army brat in me, but I like some pomp and ceremony (the legal profession enjoys that too). St Johns does some of that, but perhaps less than other clubs. The meetings don’t feel alien or uncomfortably ritualistic. The hecklers in the crowd wouldn’t allow that! It also has a good mix of people of all ages, and nearly half of our members are female, which is unusual in Rotary, sadly.
Over the last five years, I have enjoyed a number of trips, dinners, and fundraisers and a little backbreaking labour. My favourite Rotary experience thus far was the ten day period last year where we had a visit from our twin club from Aschaffenberg in Germany over a long weekend, which was followed very shortly thereafter by a cruise by the club to Amsterdam. Much fun was had during a visit to the Scottish Parliament, at the V&A in Dundee, at a club dinner and over dinner with one Rotarian and his family in a local restaurant. The trip to London just a few days later to get the boat to Amsterdam was great fun, including a trip with a couple of my fellow club members to a bar in the Shard!
Whilst that period stands out, the weekly routine, in more normal times, of going to the George, eating the famous cold meat salad (known to me as kiwi fruit and chips) and chatting to my friends means a great deal to me. Even if that does mean that I need to occasionally volunteer to help plant 5,000 crocuses to highlight the Rotary polio campaign, which left me feeling a little stiff!
Perth St Johns is a wee club with a big heart and a lot of character. In closing, I do not think I can do better than to quote a visitor to our club last year, who said, “There was a fun atmosphere and lots of humour and interchanges which made it a great evening. Before attending I had looked online to see their activities and as soon as I saw their video about putting up a Shelterbox tent, I thought this might be a rather different club, and it is.”
The visitor continues, “This is a club which gets out into the community and does things and believes in having fun while doing it. One comment was that they wanted to create a club that people want to come to. I would say they have done this.”