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RI Past President Richard D. King Recounts What Touched Him

Rotary International Past President Richard D. King described his sources of inspiration at the PNR’s Sept. 17th meeting.

Do you remember someone – a loved one, a stranger, anyone – who touched you so deeply that it stirred your soul?

In a speech at the Sept. 17th Pleasanton North Rotary’s weekly meeting, Richard D. King, past president of Rotary International (2000-2001), recalled experiencing inspirational moments hundreds of times during more than a half century as a Rotary member and leader. But one of those experiences from a seemingly inconsequential Rotary water project in the arid Ethiopian Highlands impressed King more than all the others.

King and his wife, Cherie Kay, found themselves standing there for a photo opportunity to show Rotary was returning to Ethiopia after 20 years of Communist rule, the disbanding of all its Rotary clubs and the sustained persecution of its Rotary leaders.

How they got there was a long story at the end of a tiring, five-week, multi-nation tour of Rotary club meetings and International projects. But they agreed to take another long flight to Addis Ababa, where they were greeted on the tarmac by a man Richard remembered was a lawyer, a Rotary past president, and advisor to the assassinated Emperor Haile Selassie. The revolution had cost the man everything, including the life of a murdered daughter, his home, practice, fortune, and 16 years in prison. The Kings did not dare refuse his request that they take a seven-hour drive in a jeep on unpaved roads to the water well and about a half dozen boys, each holding an empty brass cup at their sides.

A guide explained the boys were allowed to visit the well once every two days for a half cup of water in their cups. That was the full extent of their water ration, which fell short of their needs. Other children there were dying of water deprivation, but most were still alive because of the water well made possible by funds from the Rotary Foundation and Rotary clubs in the U.S.A.

Two years later, an Ethiopian delegation presented King a gift in crude wood box while visiting his California office. Inside, King found one of those brass cups, which had been inscribed with three words, “You touched us.” Holding back tears, King replied, “You are mistaken. I didn’t touch you. You touched me.”

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