At 12:30, President Shaun called the meeting to order and Sergeant at Arms David Treadwell rang the bell. In the back of the room, a TV news cameraman aimed his lens. Phone silence was decreed. American members pledged allegiance to the flag, unaccountably moved to the far wall.

Russ Savage, always willing to step into the breach, pulled the 22nd chapter of the Tao Te Ching from his pocket and gave words of inspiration on clearing the mind to lift the spirit. 

Secretary Tim Hurd introduced the guests of Rotarians:
  • Dr. Janus Ong, a physician in private practice, guest of Arrel Olano.
  • Johnny Allem, President of the Aquila Recovery Clinic, guest of Asif Bhally.
  • Vincent Holmes of Holmes Consulting, guest of Deraux Branch.
  • Anne M. Renshaw, President of the DC Federation of Citizens Associations and a former Rotary District Scholar, guest of Joan Bristol.

There were no Visiting Rotarians other than representatives of the Capitol Hill Club, who later gave an invitation to a club event.

Sergeant at Arms David Treadwell announced the birthdays: 

  • Chris Lane, November 4. Chris joined our club in 1989, sponsored by Bob Barton, His classification is Portfolio Management.
  • Bill Dent, November 7.  Trees for the Capital Committee Chair Bill was sponsored by Bob Shriner when he joined our club in 2000. His classification is Consulting: International Development.
  • Razu Shrestha , November 7. Razu joined our club in 2004, sponsored by Will Rose. His classification is Senior Services.
  • Michael Robinson, November 8. New member Michael was sponsored by Kathy Ward when he joined in June. His classification is Education: Charter Schools.

In announcements:

  • Past President David Klaus read the 2014-2015 Slate of Candidates for club and foundation offices presented by the Nominations Committee.  He reviewed the schedule of voting and the procedure for nominations of others from the membership.
  • Monica Smith talked about the new system of pledge classes and mentoring for new members. She also said that the AU film student continues to work on a video of club activities for recruiting and other purposes.
  • Rotaract President Stephanie Spivack invited us all to their fundraiser for So Others Might Eat Nov. 14.
  • Move Night is next Thursday.  The film title of “All is Lost” starring Robert Redford elicited merriment from one of the tables.
  • The monthly dine-around is Tuesday, Nov. 19 at Chef Geoff’s Downtown.
  • A red badge and Rotary pin were presented to new member Mike Carmichael.

Stu Shalloway then introduced our speaker, Leon Harris, news anchor at WJLA TV, channel 7, at 5 and 11.  He gave the highlights of Mr. Harris’s rise from unpaid college intern at CNN in the early 80s to full time anchor. He came to Washington in October, 2003.  His list of major stories and awards is very impressive, as is his commitment to the community.  He was greeted as an old friend by several members who are community service organization executives.

Some might have thought, given the presence of the WJLA camera, that we were simply in for a standard PR-oriented presentation by a local celebrity – but they would soon realize they were completely wrong.  Leon Harris gave a heartfelt, powerful talk that transfixed the audience for the full half-hour.

“I’m going to tell you about the most honest moment in my entire life,“ he told us, after first giving thanks to Rotary on behalf of his colleague, Alison Starling, an International Rotary Scholar who studied in Paris.  And he began a harrowing description of the sudden illness that threw him to the floor of his bedroom one morning in mid-August, curled in a ball of pain. 

Taken to Bethesda Hospital for overnight observation, he instead woke at 4 a.m. for a hurried trip to the ICU.  His kidneys were shutting down and his lungs were filling with fluid.  He spent 10 days unconscious, at some point being transported by helicopter to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  He was swollen unrecognizably.  Strong from regular running and daily workouts, he had to be restrained to keep from disturbing his multiple tubes and IVs.

With some humor, he described regaining consciousness from time to time -- he would blink, he said, and all of a sudden his wife would be in a different suit.  More blinks, and his children would appear.  Then a blink revealed his sons, up from Atlanta – and then his mother was at his bedside.  He began to have serious foreboding of impending death.  He movingly described the despair that overcame him as his fierce struggle to survive seemed to be hopeless.

Now we’ve all heard plenty of stories about hospitals and treatment, but this story really was different. Leon Harris’s narrative was polished and skillfully delivered, but had great impact as an utterly sincere account of an intense near-death experience.  He used minimal or no religious or spiritual vocabulary.  At the moment of almost giving up he found comfort in the memory of his wife and peace in knowing he’d tried very hard through his lifetime to help others and never to turn anyone away. Not sure if he was still alive, he wondered when the fabled bright white light would appear.  And then his strength began to return to him, and his recovery began.  His lesson of a mission of service to others was understated and convincingly taught through the recitation of excruciating events.

Questions and answers:  What was the diagnosis?  Necrotizing pancreas. Will you write a book?  He doesn’t know the ending, isn’t completely sure what he is supposed to do.  What could have prevented this?  Again, not sure.  There is family history, there are things to change.  He took supplements for physical training that his doctors thought may have adversely affected him.  He talked appreciatively about the teachers and other adults who helped him growing up in Akron, Ohio.  His early ambition was simply to wear a tie to his future job. He reiterated the importance of helping young people before the age of 14 or so when an impression can still be made.  He made a nice linkage to the Rotary Club and its principles.

The audience stood and applauded.

President Shaun presented the tree certificate, and Michael Robinson arrived with the raffle container.  The $31 was won by Shelly Williams, and as if to highlight the uplifting nature of the day, he won the $337 large pot as well.  He will give it to his non-profit.      

The Hospitality table was staffed by Stu Shalloway, Ted Hamady and Balraj Gupta.  The greeters were Chris Lane and Yoshiko Urakawa. The meeting was adjourned at 1:30 pm.