“The Rotary used to be grey men in dark suits: it’s not any more”

Jo Pawley with her chains as she become the first female president of Eyemouth and District Rotary club
Jo Pawley with her chains as she become the first female president of Eyemouth and District Rotary club

THE influence and tradition of the Rotary Club is almost unrivalled, especially in the Borders.

And new president of the Eyemouth branch, Johanna Pawley, is determined to further its reach.

Johanna is not afraid to admit that the role has been more exhiliarating and made more of an impact on her life than she expected, even though she has been working towards it for a while.

“I knew I was going to have this role,” she says, “because I’ve been junior vice-president and vice-president in the last two years. So I’ve been building up to this for the last three years. I took up the chains of office at the end of July.

“But I never realised what a big deal it would mean.

“It’s been full throttle, I’ve gone straight into the meetings and getting things organised. There are so many events going on.”

She confesses that she was unaware that she was treading new ground when she took over the presidency.

“I never thought when I was asked to join that I would be the first woman member, ever, never mind the first woman president.

“The Rotary has a reputation as being a men-only society, but that has changed. It used to be grey men in dark suits, but not any more.”

“Because it used to be men-only, there was the Inner Wheel organsation set up for the wives of Rotarians, but now I think these two organisations can be brought much closer together. When I joined, I suggested to my husband Mike that he join Inner Wheel. It’s only a once a month thing, but he didn’t seem very keen on it, for some reason.

“We have got another lady member in Eyemouth, which is great.

“I think there is a demand for it now. Dunbar elected their first woman president last year, and they now have about 10 women members.We have made so many friends.

“I was asked to join by a client when I was doing legal work in Alnwick. I connected with the ideals. Rotary is all about giving back to the community, getting involved in national and international projects.

“Take Polio Now, for example. It’s an amazing scheme that has done so much to help people around the world. In the beginning, that was just a Rotarian, in his shed, who thought, ‘Let’s end Polio.’”

Johanna goes on to point to Shelterbox, a project launched by the Rotary Club of Helston, Cornwall, which helps people who have lost everything in disasters such as drought or famine. Shelterbox has become the rotary’s largest single project, getting 50,000 people back on their feet each year.

She could also have pointed to someone closer to home: when Team GB’s Greg Rutherford was interviewed after claiming long jump gold in the Olympics last week, he mentioned his local rotary club in his thanks.

Johanna goes on: “Looking locally, for us, we have sent our first candidate to RYLA [the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards] a scheme which promotes youth leadership skills and furthers the understanding of community work along rotarian lines.

“We have also often been asked to help with the Eyemouth Herring Queen festivities – but every time we get invited to do something for it, that’s the year it pours with rain!”

Johanna and Eyemouth Rotary have been recognised for all this work - they were given the District 1020 Community Award, selected from amongst all the rotary clubs in the south of Scotland. The award ceremony didn’t entirly go to plan for Johanna, though.

“We had to do a presentation in front of 600 people, and it went a bit wrong – mainly down to technological breakdowns. But people still talk about it, the Morecambe and Wise-style double act that it turned into!

“It’s still amazing that such a small project can have such a huge impact.

“I’ve done things here that I was never able to do in the Midlands.”

Johanna describes her move away from the Midlands as “the escape”.

She and her husband Mike had been visiting the border regions on regular holidays, and finally made the move, first to Alnwick, and then to Eyemouth.

“We bought the house because we loved the area,” she says. “It was always our intention to move here, if possible before it was too late to put down roots.”

Roots don’t seem to be a problem for the pair. As well as ensconsing themselves in the rotary and its tributary organisations, Johanna serves on the Eyemouth Community Council.

She also serves on the board of Gunsgreen House, in the harbour, and her own home is full of old photographs and prints of the boats and fishing smacks that have called there.

The rotarian in her is not limited to Eyemouth though, with many trips to other clubs around the country sharing ideas and expertise as well as the community spirit.

“We’ve made so many friends through Rotary; you’re always sure of a warm welcome, even when we’ve ventured to clubs as far away as Brora, in Sutherland.

“This year we want to visit even more clubs - this is something that can be made stronger. The Rotary organisation is very good at doing things when we have to, but when it’s inessential, it doesn’t get done so well. That’s something we can change.

“For instance we can help further the Rotary project that helps victims of the sex trade in Nepal. These poor women are often disowned by their families after their ordeal, so in many cases we are the only ones who can help them.

“With our continued help they can learn a trade, and provide for themselves and their families.”

Johanna is full of praise for the works of rotarians, and wants to push them forward, to modernise without losing the traditions.

“We can be even more hands on, and do more,” she says. “It’s a very exciting time.”