“There are a million people out there who are your friends, you just haven’t met them yet.”
It’s a quote from a former district governor that drives Pam Harrison’s membership in Rotary and has led the River Hebert, N.S. native and member of the Rotary Club of Sackville, N.B. on numerous international missions and projects.
“That quote has stuck with me for years because it’s true,” she said. “No matter where you are at, people see that crest and they’ll come across the room to introduce themselves. It shows the power of being a Rotarian.”
Her involvement in Rotary has led her to be named the District 7810 Rotarian of the Year. The district represents Rotary clubs in both New Brunswick in Canada and Maine in the United States.
The award was presented to Harrison by past district governor Silvana Bosca at the district conference during the Sept. 27-28 weekend.
“I was shocked, I had no idea it was coming,” Harrison said. “I’ve been working very hard to raise funds for the Ending Polio campaign and the awards table was right next to us. I never looked over or noticed.
“When it was announced I cried. When the presentation was being made, Silvana Bosca said about five sentences and looked right at me and said ‘it’s for you, Pam.’”
Harrison said she has never looked for any sort of recognition from the time she first joined the Amherst Rotary Club in 1989. She was working as manager of the Amherst Centre mall in Amherst when one of the mall’s tenants, the late Basil Bird, came to her and told her it was time for her to become a Rotarian.
She attended a meeting at the invitation of Robert Angel and Jim Stanley and started a three-decade journey that has seen her serve with four Rotary clubs – including Amherst, Stellarton and Springhill in Nova Scotia and Sackville in New Brunswick – and take her around the world on several international projects.
When she joined there weren’t many women in Rotary, whereas today there are many women in Rotary worldwide as well as women in leadership positions. In 1989, there was just her, Diana Blenkhorn and Phyllis Cameron.
“I didn’t get into Rotary for recognition, but to get recognition for all this work is quite gratifying,” she said. “I love the international part of Rotary. When I started to travel with Rotary to immunize children in India and Haiti for the water project it really opened my eyes to the work of Rotary.”
She was first introduced to the international side of Rotary through the youth exchange program.
She traveled to Africa in the early 2000s to talk about how Rotary could help fight HIV/AIDS, she administered polio vaccine to children at Rotary-sponsored clinics in India in 2005, participated in four trips to install water purification systems in Haiti following the earthquake there and in 2003 started the Rotary Friendship Exchange and has organized exchanges with Rotarians in South Africa, India and Washington as well as future exchanges to Sweden next year and Croatia in 2021.
Harrison has also organized a district polio walk to raise money for the End Polio Now effort, with every dollar raised being matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has organized a district memorial service that celebrates the lives of Rotarians and their partners who have died each year, she is a member of the district’s Rotary Foundation and a founding member of the district Paul Harris Society.
Recently, she organized a district Rotary Polio Tulip Campaign that, in celebrating the 75th anniversary of the creation of the United Nations, saw 23 clubs in her district and Amherst raise thousands of dollars toward ending a disease that is very close to be eradicating but still exists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“That little drop of vaccine and a candy saves a life and a father’s look after his child has received that vaccine is like he won a million dollars,” she said.
Besides her work in Rotary, Harrison has been very active with the Maritime Conference of the United Church in Canada and has been active in various projects in the River Hebert-Joggins area as well as Minudie.
She was also involved in a group called Caretakers of the Environment that led to the creation of a conference for teachers and students around the world. The aim was to take 250 teachers and students to participate in environmental projects.
She recently attended the climate crisis strike in Moncton and upon speaking to older people who were came to the realization the older generation has failed the youth. She remembers speaking to a younger women who said she’s refusing to have children because she’s afraid of the world’s future.
“That’s a scary commentary about our world,” she said. “You can be negative, but you have to look at it this way and it’s the way I approach issues in Rotary or other things I’m involved in. Here’s the issue, how can we solve it and what can I do. The issue of the environment was a big thing for me so we created Caretakers of the Environment and then polio was the issue and I joined Rotary’s polio campaign. To every problem, there’s a solution.”