Outgoing president Mary Spinks, who handed over to Martin Trepte on Thursday, has led Maidenhead Rotary Club through what has to be one it’s most unusual and difficult years.
Assuming the presidency part-way through the first Covid-19 lockdown, she has been acutely aware of the isolation caused by the pandemic and the need to keep the flame of fellowship alive during a year when most meetings took place by Zoom.
“On the first day of my Presidential year, we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the death of our famous Rotarian Sir Nicholas Winton, in Oaken Grove, maintaining social-distancing. We were hopeful we would soon be free of restrictions,” said Mary.
“But apart from that event, the wonderful picnic at Pat and June Moore’s, and the planting of crocuses, we have had a bad year for socialising.”
With club meetings held remotely every two weeks, all social events such as the presidential lunch, weekend away and the Quadrilateral in St Cloud were cancelled.
“But the business of our club continued,” said Mary. “Despite meeting by Zoom, attendance has been about the same as our usual meetings, though some of those in business have not attended as they were ‘zooming’ all day.”
In August Mary and club secretary Frank Knowles signed a new constitution and by-laws documents following consultation with all members. The year also saw Howard McBrien made an honorary member of the club.
Mary made every effort to foster fun and fellowship at meetings. At one evening meeting a hat competition was held, when everyone wore amusing headgear. It was judged by our speaker and the winners were Eddie and Eileen Clarke.
And despite the lockdown restrictions Mary left no stone unturned in looking for ways Rotary could help the community during the pandemic.
She oversaw a donation of £1,000 to the Norden Farm Ark Appeal, as the arts centre was in danger of closing due to lack of funds because of the effects of lockdown. The club supported Rotarian Harry Patel’s efforts to provide meals to underprivileged school children, and also contributed £4,500 to the Maidenhead Bridge Club’s volunteer project.
And the committees continued to be as busy as ever, making grants to numerous beneficiaries such as Thames Valley Adventure Playground in Taplow, and the Aarti project in India, while the Boundary Walk was able to go ahead in a safe ‘bubble’ format.
Mary said one of the most worthwhile initiatives of her year was the club’s own Covid-19 Heroes Awards. Inspired by her nursing background, Mary came up with the idea of honouring those in our community and health services who had gone beyond the call of duty during the pandemic. Helped by Martin Trepte and Malcolm Falconer, and joined by Teresa May for the final judging, Mary’s scheme saw a total of £1,000 awarded to worthy winners.
Mary has also been liaising with Boyne Hill Cricket Club to set up a ‘youth cricketer of the year award’ and help pay for a new scoreboard with a legacy left to the club from the estate of Rotarian Ramesh Kapur.
Rotary Day in February was marked by Mary planting a rowan tree near Nicky Winton’s memorial garden in Oaken Grove with the help of Cllr Donna Stimson, who helped make the arrangements.
Sadly the last year saw three deaths in the club - Ted Roffey, Sheila Fontaine who died from Covid, and the untimely loss of Harry Patel, also from Covid. “They will all be missed,” said Mary.
There was positive news about Rotaract, which saw its ranks swell despite Covid-19. Mary said: “Thanks to the sterling efforts of Matthew Burdett and Lisa Hunter from Maidenhead Bridge, there are now eight members and they have their own president.”
And while two Quadrilaterals in a row have been cancelled, links with our twin clubs in St Cloud, Tivoli and Bonn were maintained by videoconferences and a light-hearted quiz.
One of Mary’s biggest regrets is that she could not complete her Rotary Connect project to tackle loneliness by linking schoolchildren with elderly people in care homes. “Because of the restrictions due to lockdown and the vulnerability of both groups, this never really got off the ground. Safety had to come first,” she said.
Mary continued: “My thanks go to all who have supported me during this challenging year. The chairman and the members of each of our committees have worked hard to keep our club active, despite the restrictions.
“As we enter a new Rotary year, let us hope that it will see a return to normal with our new president, Martin, leading the way.”