Rotary club of Port Louis

Last Wednesday I was invited by the current President to attend the 45th year luncheon celebration of the Rotary club of Port Louis which was the founding club of Rotary in Mauritius.  It is now almost five years since I left the club because of my health condition. I walked back to the club and I felt as if I had never left: I found the same welcoming atmosphere & fellowship from my Rotarian friends. Admittedly the regular weekly luncheons, the monthly firesides, and frequent team working on projects for the club has throughout the years build a fantastic  bonding to the club and the members.

Claude Obeegadoo a founder member of the club still active in the club gave a brief account of the forming of the institution 45 years ago. As a matter of fact the club was created more than 45 years ago. The club was chartered on the 10th November 1964 but had been running some time before. Most of the founding members were already in the spirit of the Rotary whilst they are united prior to the independence of the country under the Stella Clavisque club with the motto of Service to the Community and they were influential leaders who had experienced social work during the dramatic cyclones Alix & Carol which destroyed the country in 1960.

The story of Claude Obeegadoo brought back to me the memories of my youth and the dedication of my father who was also involved in social service. I was part of ‘les compagnons batisseurs’ organisation put up under the leadership of Edwin de Robillard to help the homeless victims of the 1960 cyclones. I do recall helping my father who was involved in the fund rising banquets organised by the Stella Clavisque clubs. Under the aegis of the Rotary our Music group of the time was often asked to perform for the handicapped and Polio victims at the Hospice Père Laval and the Tamarin Cheshire home.  The names mentioned at the luncheon as founder members were indeed very good friends of my father. Some of them  dinned at  home when the club held the firesides.

For record purposes I have kept a note that Andre Robert who until a few years back  attended the weekly luncheon at age over 90. Andre Robert since passed away. He wrote on the founding of the club.

When Rotary International entrusted me with the task of establishing a Rotary Club in Curepipe, my primary concern was to avoid repeating the mistake which had been committed in the earlier establishment of the Rotary Club of Port Louis and which had been the failure to preserve club records.

This omission has resulted in the loss of useful information on the beginnings of the Club which would have been of great assistance to future generations. Thus, Curepipe Rotary Club has kept records of its first meetings which will provide a useful account of its first steps within this vast organisation.

In early 1964, my friend Louis Espitalier Noel (Bouzic) who had just returned from a trip to Europe came to see me in my office in Port Louis in order to discuss his plans for setting up a Rotary Club in Mauritius. At that time I did not have the slightest idea about Rotary. To me Rotary was a club for dominoes players.

Indeed, I had read in those days in the local newspapers advertisements concerning dominoes tournaments organised by a club in Port Louis named the Rotary Club. That was all I knew about Rotary. Bouzic, who had attended several authentic Rotary Club meetings in Europe and in Madagascar and who have had useful discussions with Messrs Le Goff and Paul Giraud, told me about the aims and ideas of Rotary. I was immediately attracted to Rotary ideals and I accepted without hesitation to join Bouzic and other friends interested in setting up a club in Mauritius. Bouzic also told me that several unsuccessful attempts had been made in the past. We enlisted the support of those who had been involved in earlier attempts and we set forward resolutely.

The first meetings were held in early 1964 at Bouzic’s house in Floreal. We received much help and support from Monsieur Le Goff, Allan Bates who was a Past President of Cyprus Rotary Club and former Manager of the Development Bank of Mauritius, Paul Giraud, Annauth Beejadhur, José Poncini, Amédée Maingard de la Ville-es Offrans and Bouzic. Once the activity had taken shape and we could count on the sponsorship of the Rotary Club of Tananarive, of which Monsieur Le Goff was a member, we started holding regular meetings like a functional club. We had alternate weekly lunch meetings at the former Flore Mauricienne in Sir William Newton Street, Port Louis and drinks meetings in the evening in the loft of the Park Hotel, in Curepipe. We also organised “Ladies Nights” in the loft of the Park Hotel.

We started on a probationary basis on 1st June 1964 and our regular weekly meetings to go back to that date. We encountered some problems with our recognition by Rotary International. These were mostly due to geographical considerations. Rotary International failed to understand why our club, the Port Louis Rotary Club was named after a District of Mauritius, when in fact most of its members lived in the high parts of the island, in Plaines Wilhems and Moka Districts. We submitted detailed explanations and maps to Rotary International, saying that although most of our members lived in Plaines Wilhems and Moka districts, at distances varying between 6 and 16 miles from Port Louis, in fact our members’ business activities were in Port Louis. After our explanations had failed to convince the Board of Rotary International, we decided to include the whole island within the territorial limits of the Rotary Club of Port Louis, in order to avoid any confusion and further delay in our recognition.

On 10th November I964 we received our formal recognition by a cable addressed to José‚ Poncini.

In the meantime we had constituted our first Board of Directors with Annauth Beejadhur as President, Allan Bates as Vice-president and myself, André Robert as second Vice-president. Our Secretary was José Poncini and our Treasurer, Maxime Seriès. The other Board members were K. Sunassee, Ebrahim Dawood, Amédée Maingard de la Ville-es-Offrans and Louis Espitalier Noël who was also our Sergeant-at-arms. Fritz Kux was the Attendance Officer when Maxime Seriès was abroad, K. Sunassee stood in as Treasurer. Our charter was officially handed to us by District Governor, John Longman, at a banquet held at the former Vatel which was situated on the present location of the Continental Hotel.

All the members of Port Louis Rotary Club attended this banquet. The guests were Mr. Tom Vickers, the official in charge of the Government of Mauritius, Prime Minister, Sir Sewoosagur Ramgoolam, Ministers of the first coalition Government, The Bishops of Port Louis and Mauritius, Monsieur Le Goff, our sponsor and members of Saint Denis, Réunion Rotary Club. Grace was said by Monseigneur Daniel Liston, Bishop of Port Louis. Speeches were made by Annauth Beejadhur, our President, District Governor, John Longman, Prime Minister, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, top Government official, Tom Vickers (himself a former Rotarian) and Monsieur Le Goff.

The same Board stayed in office following the official receipt of the Club charter. The following 3 committees were created: Club Service, Community Service (of which I was a member) and International Service. We did not form a Vocational Service Committee because we were unsure of its purpose and also because of a lack of members to serve on it. We preferred to concentrate our efforts on a limited number of committees. Like our fellow members of St. Denis Rotary Club, we were independent and did not wish our club to join District 220.

I was appointed President of Port Louis Rotary Club for its second year starting on 1st July 1965. I was attending a Conference on legal studies in St. Denis, Réunion. My friend and lawyer colleague, Dominique Sauger, was at that time President of St. Denis Rotary Club. My friend Dominique and myself received for the occasion a very warm and enthusiastic reception from St. Denis Rotary Club.

Upon my return to Mauritius, I started my term of office as President with the same Board members as for the previous year. At first we found it difficult to select a project. We had several projects in mind during my Presidency. One of them was “Alcoholic Anonymous”. The idea was that Dr. Raman would train for a period of 6 months a medical officer selected from his staff at Brown Sequard Hospital. The Club would than temporarily take over and would pay the medical officer’s salary. If the project had been successful, the Government would have been asked to take it over. Another project was that every Rotarian would look after an elderly or disabled person. We also considered asking Rotarians to employ first offenders, ex prisoners with a view to their rehabilitation upon the recommendation of the Commissioner of Prison. Unfortunately these projects, which were rather ambitious for a new club, were not carried out successfully.

Subsequently we bought musical instruments for the paralysed people of Tamarin Cheshire Home and we also paid for a music teacher to give them lessons.

As far as I can recall the list of founder members of Port Louis Rotary Club is as follows:

  • Philippe Lenoir ( Beverages – Alcoholic (Wine Distributing)
  • Pierre Hugnin ( Beverages – Non-alcoholic (Carbonated Beverage Manufacturing)
  • Bhopal Beeharry Panray ( Business Service (Patent and Trade Marks)
  • Clément Dalais ( Construction Service (Building Construction)
  • Fritz Kux ( Construction Service (General Contracting)
  • K. Sunassee ( Dry Goods and General Merchandise- Drapery (Variety Stores)
  • Claude Obeegadoo ( Education (Private School)
  • Archibald Archibald Engineering (Civil Engineering)
  • Allan Bates ( Finance (Development Banking)
  • Ebrahim Dawood ( Food Industry (Food and Grain)
  • Maxime Seriès (Fruit, Vegetables and Nut Products (Fruit and Vegetable Importing and Distribution)
  • Marcel Lagesse Glass Industry (Mirror Manufacturing)
  • James 0. Greig Government (Taxation)
  • H.R. Hurd ( Government (Taxation)
  • Commander Lavender Government (Public Defence – Sea)
  • John Schoon-Wagen Government (Tourist Promotion)
  • José Poncini Horology (Watch Servicing and Retailing).
  • Michel Pitot Hotels and Restaurants (Hotels)
  • Philippe Lim ( Hotels and Restaurants (Restaurants)
  • André Robert ( Law (Solicitor)
  • Henry Latham-Koenig ( Law (Notary Public) )
  • Fernand Espitalier-Noël ( Medicine (Surgeon) )
  • Abdool Raman ( Medecine (Psychiatrist) )
  • Annauth Beejadhur ( Printing and Publishing (Newspaper Publishing)
  • Radhamohun Gujadhur ( Real Estate (Land Development)
  • Carrim Currimjee ( Real Estate (Renting-Proprietary)
  • Robert Antoine ( Sugar Industry (Sugar Research)
  • Philip Scott ( Sugar Industry (Sugar Milling)
  • G.P.N. Weller ( Tobacco Industry (Cigarette Manufacture)
  • Amédée Maingard de la Ville-es-Offrans ( Transportation (Air Transportation)
  • Louis Espitalier-Noël ( Transportation (Travel Agency)

The following members inducted in early May 1965 were the first members admitted to Port Louis Rotary Club following the receipt of its charter:

  • Robert Antelme ( Laundry, Cleaning and Dyeing (Laundries)
  • Pierre Desmarais ( Architecture )
  • Redmond Hart de Keating ( Law – Notary (He replaced Henry Latham-Koenig who had resigned)
  • Edward Bathfield ( Shoe Manufacture)
  • Alain Raffray ( Banking – Commercial)
  • Leslie Mayhew ( Life Assurance)
  • Grewal (Lumber)

Other members admitted upon the opening of their classification round about June or July I965 were:

  • Docteur B. Jowry ( Dentistry)
  • Hamid Moollan ( Law (Barrister-at-Law)
  • L. France Yip Tong ( Refrigeration)
  • R. Seeyave ( Refrigeration )

During my Presidency, I received on 19th and 20th September I965, Kendall Young from the Eastern Hemisphere District Governor Service. I learnt much from him. He encouraged me to try my best to have the club included into District 220. I remember that accompanying him at about I p.m. to the Park Hotel. Upon his arrival by plane in Mauritius after an exhausting day in St. Denis, I offered him a drink which he refused. I then offered him tea or coffee which he also refused. He then told me he was a Mormon and , as such, never drank any alcoholic or stimulating beverages. He then told me that he would like to have a bath. Unfortunately not a drop of water was running from the taps at this late hour, although it was raining abundantly outside. He seemed very disappointed.

I also received Anant Pandya who was then Governor of District 220. He also pressed our club to join District 220. In spite of the explanations of my friend Anant Pandya and the assistance given by Allan Bates and myself, Club members still hesitated and did not want to commit themselves. We wanted in fact to follow St. Denis Club which had remained independent. It was only after the visit of Rotary International President, Luther Hodges, in January 1968, that Port Louis and St. Denis Rotary Clubs decided to join District 220.

Our monthly bulletin first appeared in January 1965. Archibald Archibald (Archi) was responsible for its publication. I have kept some of the early issues of our bulletin. I think that I have given you an outline of our beginnings in this noble organisation: Rotary International. I leave to other founding members the task of completing the picture and of giving you an account of the Club’s more recent achievements.



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