Last week, Ron Burton was in Bangalore, India. Next week, he’s meeting Pope Francis in Rome. On Wednesday, though, he was at a packed Boudreaux’s on Government Street in Baton Rouge, urging the local Rotary Club to spread the word about this 109-year-old service organization.
“We impact lives. There’s absolutely no question about it,” Burton exhorted his fellow Rotarians. “You’re doing that very thing right here.”
Traveling is key part of the job for Burton, who took over as president of Rotary International in July.
Since then, he has traveled almost half a million miles and he’s still got more than four months left to go.
“I tell people my home is United Airlines,” he said.
Rotary has clubs in 200 countries and counts more 1.2 million people as members.
Burton said his work with Rotary has given him friends all over the world.
“Can you imagine a young kid in Duncan, Okla., doing that?” he asked.
Burton said his own journey began in 1981 when a friend in Norman, Okla., asked him to join the organization, then serve as president of the club’s charitable foundation. He’s been hooked ever since.
“I know that because I said yes, I didn’t change lives,” he said. “But the life changed the most was my own.”
He urged members to share a similar message and bring at least one new person to the organization.
“Why are you keeping this wonderful gift you have to yourself?” he asked. “Why are you not sharing it?”
One example of changing lives is an effort to eradicate polio, which Rotary has undertaken for the past 25 years.
He said polio is in only three countries and is on track to be eradicated by 2018. His trip to India last week was to celebrate the disease disappearing from that country.
Locally, the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge is focused, among other things, on a project to provide clean water to people living in the Central American nation of Belize.
Burton also highlighted the organization’s effort to attract young people but said those efforts need to improve and the “new generation” needs to feel included.
“They need to be involved in our projects, and we need to be involved in theirs,” he said.