“Rotary has been my lifeline and now we need a lifeline for Rotary” – These are the words of the first female President of Henley Rotary ahead of its 50th anniversary next year.
For Anna Devey, from Shrewley, the message couldn’t be more heartfelt as she appeals for more members to help secure the future of the Club that she holds so dear – the Club she credits with turning her life around following the sudden death of her husband.
Anna, 74, hopes that her story will help build numbers as well as, ultimately, enrich the lives of other people like her.
Anna and Bob met through Claverdon Tennis Club where they were members. After both going through divorces, the couple fell in love and started a new life together in Hatton, where they lived for 12 years.
But events were to take a tragic turn when, in 2011, Bob suddenly died, aged 64, just two years into his retirement.
“I had been to visit my mother in Portugal and I noticed when he picked me up at the airport he had a very bloodshot eye and complained of a headache,” Anna recalls.
“That afternoon, while playing golf, he had trouble with his eyesight. He went to our GP and was immediately sent to Warwick Hospital for a check-up.
“A CT scan the next day showed an aneurysm but after a lumbar puncture to check he wasn’t bleeding, was sent home later that day. Fifteen minutes after walking in the door he turned very grey and collapsed. We went to Coventry Hospital in an ambulance and two days later they turned off his life support machine. The lumbar puncture had been misread, the aneurysm had been bleeding. He should not have been sent home.”
She added: “I really don’t think I would have joined Rotary had Bob not died. My whole life changed. We lived in Hatton in a large bungalow, with a huge garden and hens and two dogs.
“After he died I kept the house on for two years but it was too much for me on my own so I moved to Henley – but I didn’t like it. I was basically bored I think. No Bob, no social life, no garden, no house in France, which was inherited by his children from a previous marriage. I needed something.”
“Then Covid hit and I started to help my lovely friend Mike Redman whose wife had died a few years before and had recently been given a bowel cancer diagnosis. Rotary was a huge part of his life. He said ‘just come along and see what you think.’ That was the start of it.”
On the journey to rebuild her own life, Anna has also had to overcome a heart attack, two years ago. She also continues to support her daughter who, at the age of 23, was struck down with Susac Syndrome, a rare autoimmune condition which has left her with sight and hearing loss and child-like behaviour. She had to undergo two years of physiotherapy to learn to walk again.
After a spell living in Claverdon, Anna is now settled with her two beloved dogs in her home in Shrewley.
Despite struggling with membership, she is proud that Henley Rotary Club has managed to raise £16,000 last year alone for local causes, including Myton, Shakespeare and Acorns hospices as well as Prostate Cancer Research.
And recent donations include £500 to Warwick Hospital Special Care Baby Unit towards a new heated cot for premature babies and £250 to Henley Memory Café for a theatre trip.
In her seventh year as a Rotarian, she is also making history as the first female President of the Club after rules were changed in 1989 to permit women to join.
She said: “I am honoured to be the first female President but I hope being female will make no difference. I plan to guide and support Henley Rotary in any way I can.
“Rotary has been a lifeline for me. It is now a huge part of my life. I have enjoyed it, the friendships I have made, the ideas we have had – which work out better than we had ever thought. It’s so rewarding seeing the difference we can make to other people’s lives.
“I think with only seven of us left we are limited to what we can achieve to raise money to help various causes, but where there is a will there is a way, this is where service before self comes in!
“You don’t have to be a member to help, just become involved in local events which are run by your local Rotary Club. You will soon see what a difference the smallest thing can do. The social side, especially if they are on their own, meeting new people, the help that can be given locally and overseas, working with other clubs making a large team, can work wonders.
“Hopefully after a few weeks and realising what Rotary is all about and the help that is given to others, more people will join us.”
Why join a Rotary Club?
Jonathan Wilding, District Governor Nominee for the Heart of England Rotary which includes Henley, said: I’m often asked ‘Why should I join Rotary, what’s in it for me?’ My first answer is usually, ‘friendship and fellowship,’ as being a Rotarian can be a lot of fun.
“In our regular meetings, when we’re raising money for charity and at the social events that we organise. Secondly there’s looking at our community’s needs and finding creative ways to meet them. This can take the form of fundraising or providing our labour to help people out.
“There are endless opportunities for personal growth and development and there is the fact that you are part of a global organisation that has an impact across the world as can be seen with the lead we have taken on eradicating Polio and the fact that charities such as ‘ShelterBox’ are often the first responders when there is an International disaster.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to make a big difference to the lives of others – and to your own.”