To boldly go where no woman had gone before

St Johns Rotarian Maureen (Mo) Young recalls her groundbreaking admittance to Rotary.

In 1989, Rotary International decreed that the worldwide movement established in 1905 should be allowed to admit women to its ranks. It was not until the millennium, however, that the fair City of Perth embraced these enlightened ideas and sought to harness the talents of womankind for the good of Rotary - and the woman in their sights in 2000 was yours truly!

St Johns was the first of the three city clubs to invite a woman to join - but the far-seeing action created division in the ranks. My appointment as Perth's first ever female Rotarian was by no means unanimous and several voices were raised in objection to opening their cosy confabs to any feminine influences. Suffice to say, the voices of reason and progression won out and I found myself rubbing shoulders on a weekly basis with an impressive gathering of gentlemen of business and commerce - many I already knew and respected through contact in my working life as a local journalist.

So why did I put myself forward for scrutiny and possible rejection in the first place?

Well, through writing about the work of Rotary for many years, I knew the value of the organisation and the many good works carried out in its name both at home and internationally. I had written about their fun-filled activities and fellowship events and seen the photographs of their many social and charitable functions in the pages of our local media.

I agreed with the ethos and aims of Rotary and felt the time was right to add my contribution to the well-used "give something back" school of thinking.I was also pretty ballsy and happy to plough a new lone furrow in local Rotary.

And I don't regret my decision for a single moment! The men of St. Johns quickly welcomed and supported their unique fellow member and over the years, Rotary has given me not only a sense of purpose and achievement in the Third Sector, but also a whole new "family". Acquaintances made have grown into valued friendships as we share the highs and lows of both our Rotary world and our personal lives. The hand of friendship and support that Rotary extends to those in need across the globe is also ever-ready to support our own club members.

During my early years with St Johns I served on the Community Service committee and had the pleasure of heading up projects such as the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) scheme which sends senior school pupils from all across the country to an adventure camp designed to promote teamwork and leadership skills. We saw many a local youngster develop in remarkable ways through this worthy initiative.

I was then asked to convene the weighty International Service committee and many will recall my "Amanda For Uganda" project which channelled our weekly raffle money towards buying a dairy cow for a needy family in Uganda through the respected Send A Cow organisation. Perth College kindly created a life-size jigsaw of a Friesian cow which we fitted together bit by bit as the money rolled in. We even managed to fund a few chickens as well! I often wonder if Amanda is still producing life-sustaining milk for her family?

More women were to follow hard on my heels and join our club and - suddenly - the time seemed right to appoint our first female President. By default rather than design (the sitting Vice-President having resigned from the club), I found myself catapulted into the second-in-command role, supporting local vet David Ramsay during his Presidential year. Underpinning us both was Junior Vice President, lawyer George Beaton, and the fun-loving triumverate was a joy to be part of. We all became true friends and our time together represented some of my most enjoyable days in Rotary.

George Beaton, Maureen Young and David Ramsay

My year as President (2004/05) coincided with Rotary International's 100th anniversary and centenary celebrations and projects dominated throughout. The hard work associated with a President's post was punctuated with centenary dinners, parties and even attendance at a Royal Garden Party.

Maureen and guests at a fundraising dinner

And then came a watershed in my year at the helm - an international catastrophe none could have foreseen that would galvanise Rotary worldwide and bring together Perth City's three clubs in an unprecedented effort. On Boxing Day, an earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck the Indian Ocean, killing hundreds of thousands and devastating the lives of thousands more.

I was extremely proud and honoured to lead St Johns in a three-club project which identified and funded the rebuilding of an SOS Children community in Sri Lanka - all but wiped off the face of the earth by the devastation. It was Rotary at its best - working together for the good of others, bringing together a community that has so much to help those who were left with nothing. Our joint efforts raised over £30,000 and brought help and hope to the youngsters of Kyankerni.

Sri Lanka appeal organisers

It also cemented an already strong friendship between myself and the Presidents of our mother club Perth Rotary and sister club Perth Kinnoull. John McEwen and Mike Graham were a joy to work with and helped show what could be achieved when we all pulled together.

Maureen Young, John McEwen and Mike Graham

I'm proud of what I've achieved during my many years with Rotary - spearheading the twinning links with a `Rotary club in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria; organising survival training with Special Forces experts; persuading Auchingarrich Wildlife Park to loan us two baby Rheas as fundraisers at Perth Show by guessing their names; hosting fundraising dinners with my husband; working with the homeless at CATH's Kitchen; carol singing for pensioners; chairing the annual Sportsman's Dinner during my year and President alongside guest speaker Grand National-winning jockey Bob Champion; visiting and supporting Mercy Ships' then-new vessel Africa Mercy; hosting fundraising Ladies Lunches; funding life-lengthening visits to Scotland for Chernobyl children; hosting international Rotary curlers; fundraising to erect a three-club Rotary Centenary Clock opposite Perth Concert Hall; raising funds for a special hoist at Perth Royal Infirmary stroke unit; our support work of Perth Young Carers and so many, many more worthy efforts and fun-filled fellowship events.

Maureen Young, David Ramsay and two rhea chicks

One stand-out honour came during my year as President, however, when I pushed for the club to make its first ever Paul Harris Award presentations - the greatest honour Rotary can pay its members and named after the movement's founder. Four founding members of St Johns were honoured that day and presented with the award - their surprise, delight and obvious emotion was something I will never forget. A richly deserved recognition for four giants of our club - Alex Hay, Albert Donaldson, Ian Agnew and Gordon McFatridge.

Paul Harris Awards presentations

While some of the "old school" might spin in their graves to see how Rotary has evolved to embrace female members, many more recognise the valuable contribution women have made. St Johns, for example, now has nearly as many women as men in its ranks. And all agree its great fun, very rewarding and extremely welcoming - especially from the men! A far cry from 2000 when I first walked through the doors to face a doubting all-male club! But the rest, as they say, is history!

Afternoon Tea Organisers 2016