Ron Simpson: High Sheriff is star turn at club dinner

Rotary club presentation to Loros

Rotary club presentation to Loros

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Saturday April 18th saw an ancient institution given a fresh lease of life in Rutland. Andrew Brown, local farmer and NFU activist was guest speaker at the annual black tie President’s Night Dinner hosted by the Rotary Club of Uppingham. Andrew had taken up his duties the previous week as High Sheriff of Rutland at an elegant ceremony held in Oakham Castle. He created a night to be remembered!

Venue was the main lounge of the elegantly refurbished Falcon Hotel in Uppingham Market Place. Venue hosts were Honorary Rotarians Carol and Robert Wills. Seventy guests joined them and Club President Rotarian Margaret Simpson for a superb meal.

The evening opened with a special surprise for two of the diners. While the achievements of the Rotary Club at home and abroad are a team effort, on this special occasion members and guests present were asked to recognise the outstanding achievements of two members in particular.

Di Holden is well-known to a huge percentage of the community, as she was for many years a cornerstone of community health in the town working from the old doctors’ surgery. Hugh Holden is an ex RAF and Merchant Navy Officer who, prior to retirement, served as the Bursar of Stamford School. Together they have achieved remarkable things. The service projects led by them have included fund raising for and the despatch of two autoclaves for Ghanaian hospitals, an African E Ranger Motorcycle ambulance project, an East African Playgrounds initiative and the establishment and annual development of the Eyebrook Charity Walk. The Rotary movement has established special recognition for such outstanding volunteers. It is an award named after the movement’s founder, Paul Harris. In America the recognition can be achieved by simply contributing $1000. Here in the UK it is only given for outstanding community service and on the recommendation of one’s peers. It was a huge pleasure to see Hugh and Di Holden awarded Paul Harris Fellowships.

After dinner, principal guest Andrew Brown took to his feet in ceremonial garb and with sword and proceeded to deliver what many guests later described as the best speech they had heard in years. He was charming, witty and entertaining, just what was required after the substantial meal.

His presentation fell into two main parts. He talked of his life as a farmer, his work with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and his efforts to promote good husbandry of land and the rural way of life. Despite putting over some serious messages, Andrew took the opportunity to poke fun at farming stereotypes and addressed some common misunderstandings by urban folk. The audience warmed to his efforts to promote greater comprehension and delighted in a number of Royal anecdotes. It was, however, his portrayal of the role of High Sheriff that really wowed the crowd. By the end of his speech he had convinced the whole audience that the role of High Sheriff was one that must be preserved and valued as a part of English heritage. Using humour and a refreshing sideways look at his ceremonial garb (potentially costing thousands but available on e-bay for £500 he said) and his ancient right to raise a hue and cry, put together a posse or perhaps even close the A1, Andrew had the room rolling with laughter as he gently poked fun at the historic powers he held. Even the Palace did not escape his sense of humour. Beneath it all, however, he left us all with a couple of deeply moving messages. The first was that our preservation of ancient roles such as High Sheriff epitomised what is different about being English. It sets us apart from many others and was something to be celebrated. The audience agreed. The second was a brief outline of the outstanding charity work that had been done by his predecessors and his intention to continue the good work.

What had started as a talk by a well-known local farmer wearing some rather strange looking clothes became a deeply moving insight into aspects of the English way of life and a stirring of the heartstrings. If you are in the business of booking speakers for public functions, you had better move quickly. This farmer is a star!

On Monday evening a cheque was presented to Loros by President Margaret Simpson of the Rotary Club of Uppingham from the 2015 Eyebrook Walk, pictured above.