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Remembering Royce Abbey

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A life put into Rotary

By PDG Paul Henningham, OAM 

When we look back on our lives, we think about what we have done, what we have achieved, the challenges we have faced and how we have overcome the many adversities on the road to accomplishing our goals and dreams. Importantly, as Rotarians, we think about how we have been of service to others.

With heavy hearts we learnt of the loss of one our great Rotarians, Rotary International Past President Royce Abbey OAM, on February 20, 2014.

Royce was heavily involved in Rotary life, with an unswerving commitment to the service of others. Well-known for his adage Put Life into Rotary – Your Life, Royce certainly lived this philosophy and, looking back, it was a life nothing short of remarkable.

Royce was a decorated soldier, an entrepreneur, a businessman, a public servant and a respected leader. He was also a loving husband, proud father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Born Albert Henry Royce Abbey in Melbourne on June 8, 1922, Royce was educated at local State primary and secondary schools and pursued a career in real estate following his schooling. In 1941, as a young real estate trainee, Royce enlisted in the Australian Army, aged 19.

While serving in the armed forces, Royce was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for outstanding leadership and conspicuous gallantry in action and later commissioned Lieutenant.

Life after service brought love and Royce married Jean, his lifelong partner, counsellor and inspiration.

Seeking a new and challenging vocation, Royce joined his father and brothers in a small manufacturing venture. The company prospered, becoming the largest manufacturer of venetian blinds and awnings in the southern hemisphere and they later merged with a multi­national corporation. Retiring in 1974, Royce pursued a successful business consultancy.

Royce served a term as Alderman on the Essendon City Council and held senior offices in the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), including President of the National Council. He joined the Rotary Club of Essendon, Vic, in 1954, served as club President in 1963-64 and District 280 (9800) Governor in 1969-70. Royce was elected to the Rotary International Board in 1976-77 and served as Vice President from 1977-78.

Among his many accomplishments, Royce was a member and Chairman of the Rotary Down Under Executive Committee, founding Chairman of Australian Rotary Health, Chairman of the Epworth Hospital Foundation and supporter of the Research Centre for Molecular Biology and Medicine.

Royce was elected President of Rotary International in 1988-89. During his presidential year, he made significant contributions to the Rotary community. He re-established Rotary in Russia (which had been banned during the Soviet years) and successfully promoted PolioPlus, Rotary’s fight to end Polio, which has seen a reduction in polio cases by 99 per cent worldwide since the first project to vaccinate children in the Philippines in 1979.

Following his term as President, Royce served as member and Chairman of The Rotary Foundation.

With such an extraordinary history of service, Royce Abbey was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1988, named Victorian of the Year in 1989 and appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2001.

The University of Melbourne recognised his life of service, naming the “Royce Abbey Room” in the university’s International House. In addition to his life of service, Royce will continue to give back to his community through the Royce Abbey Awards that recognize Rotarians who show enthusiasm and commitment to the object of Rotary, the Royce and Jean Abbey Endowment Fund for students in developing countries and the Australian Rotary Health Royce Abbey Post-Doctoral Fellowships. 

Hundreds of friends, family, colleagues and admirers gathered together at Melbourne Town Hall on February 28 to remember Royce and to celebrate a life put into Rotary.

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