One Man Who Changed History–You’ve Never Heard Of

By Doug Armey

Last Saturday, unknowingly, I sat next to a man at a luncheon who literally changed history.

I was attending a weekend training conference of Rotary International for incoming club presidents.

Rotary International, is the largest and oldest service club in the world. There are over 1.2 million members in over 200 countries and territories.  It’s made up of business and community leaders who choose to make a difference in their world with their time and money.

One of the major projects, for which Rotary is known today, is their effort to eradicate polio worldwide. 35 years ago they began this dream, when hundreds of thousands of primarily children had contracted this dreaded disease and died or been crippled for life. Rotary has raised and spent over $1.5 billion in its fight.  Today there are only a few isolated cases, in four pockets of the world.

In recent years this battle has gained even more fame as Bill Gates has pledged $300 million to the effort. This is the single largest health campaign ever launched by a private organization in history.

At lunch, I walked up to an empty chair at a table towards the front in the ballroom where 600 people were finding places.  I asked the elderly Asian man, leaning on his cane, if the seat next to him was taken.  He said no and asked me to join him.

We chatted briefly and then they announced, “And now we will introduce our dignitaries.”  They introduced the 12 people sitting on stage at the head table.  All wore their matching grey sport coats with their pins and badges indicating their importance.  I love Rotary.  But not so much that tiny part of it.

Then they announced, “We have in the audience today three International Past Presidents.”  I was impressed.  I have only met one before.  They introduced the first two.  Each stood in turn at his table and was given a standing ovation.

Then they introduced the third and the diminutive gentleman next to me, with the help of his cane, slowly stood to his feet.  We all joined in giving him a standing ovation.  I was stunned.

With the announcements over we went back to chatting and eating lunch.

I said, “I’ve never talked with a Rotary International President before.  I’m honored.”

He humbly dismissed the comment with, “Thank you.”

I asked him, “Where are you from?”

He replied, “My home club is Manila in The Philippines.”

I mentioned, “I attended one of your meetings in 2001 when we were visiting Manila.”

He was impressed and we discussed that trip.

Then I asked him, “I can imagine that being the International President you had many amazing experiences.  But if you could name one, what would be the most memorable experience of your presidency?”

He grew thoughtful.  After a few moments he said quietly, “During my year as president we launched the fight to stop polio.”

I was speechless.  Here was this quiet unassuming man who as international president had launched this massive campaign.  This humble servant unleashed a force to stop this dreaded disease from infecting any more children.  In the process he changed the history of untold thousands who will never even know his name.

I asked him, “So why polio?  Why that disease?”

He said, “The Philippines had the highest incident of polio per capita in South East Asia.  We had two young children.  They had two close friends come down with polio one week after they all had been swimming together.  My wife and I were terrified for our children.  So when the vaccine became available I organized a group to immunize all the children and eradicate polio in The Philippines.  So when I became the president of Rotary International that became my focus.”

I said, “So it was personal?”

He responded, “Yes.”

I went on, “It came out of your own experience?”


“That’s what drove the passion?”


We finished lunch.  Afterward I thanked him for sharing his story with me.  He was gracious and wished me well in my year as president of my club.  He said he would be waiting to hear about the great things our club had accomplished.

Afterwards, I thought about how most of us want to make an impact in our world.

We want our lives to count for something beyond ourselves.  We want to feel our lives mattered and we helped make the world a little better.

Yet, it’s so easy to keep waiting for some big cause to get involved in.  And life passes us by.

Here was a man who stopped waiting and out of the passion fueled by his own tears and fear got involved.

Where no one was doing what he wanted done he organized it.  He networked with people already doing what he wanted and then launched.  He knew he couldn’t solve every problem but he could help solve one.  He knew he couldn’t touch every hurting person but he could help alleviate someone’s pain.

And in the midst he discovered true fulfilling life in a way few of us ever find.  Not out of seeking it but simply because he set out to serve those who needed him most.

He discovered the truth Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39, NIV)

Want to find real life?  Go back and look at the elements of how this friend discovered it.

Join me.  Let me know what you discover.

Thanks for reading my friend.  If this post encouraged you please let me know and share it with your friends.  And if you haven’t subscribed yet please do.  I appreciate it.

Categories : Significance, Success

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