Here comes the governor – a local Lion prepares to roar
By Angela Long
Published July 26, 2016
When a lion roars, it’s hard not to notice. When 31,000 Lions roar, watch out. From June 24 to 28, 31,000 Lions descended upon Japan to roar at the 99th annual Lions Club International Convention. It was there Haliburton and District Lions Club member David Mills was installed as governor of district A16 – a region comprising of 52 clubs and 1,250 members – until July 1, 2017.
Mills marched alongside his fellow Lions in the Parade of Nations through the streets of Fukuoka, the capital city of the most southwesterly of Japan’s four main islands, Kyushu.
“The streets were lined with people,” says Mills’s wife and fellow Lion (Lioness), Betty Mills. “Children gave out gifts and yelled ‘We love Canada!’”
Despite a 17-hour flight and a lost luggage incident, the Millses could say the same about Japan. They drank warm sake. They ate sushi from a conveyor belt (“No, thank you to the eel,” says Betty). They tried homemade udon and were told “it’s OK to slurp.” They drove in taxi cabs where lace doilies protected the head rest and drivers donned white gloves.
And one day, says Betty, on a day trip to Nokonoshima they went “up, up, up forever to the top of the island.” There they were surrounded by fields of marigolds and hydrangeas, sculpted gardens with umbrella-shaped trees.
“It was like stepping into heaven,” she says.
And then it was time for David and Betty to step into their new roles.
“The whole convention pumped me up as a governor,” says David. “You realize you’re part of a huge organization, and an important part of it.”
With 1.4 million members and 46,000 clubs in 192 countries – Lions Club International is the largest service club organization in the world. In 2008, the club was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Their 2014-2015 annual report states the club donated US$6 million towards measles and rubella vaccinations, US$10 million towards eye care services, and provided immediate aid to 14,000 victims of natural disasters, among many other humanitarian efforts.
“Where’s there’s a need, there’s a Lion,” states their website.
Where there’s a need, there’s David and Betty Mills. It’s been two weeks since their return and they haven’t wasted any time getting over their jet lag. They’ve just returned from The Shop, where they’re continuing their volunteer work building sets for the Highland Summer Theatre. An actor from Old Love walks in the sun room.
“Make yourself at home,” says Betty.
Two actors from Oliver! are staying in their basement.
Service is as much a part of the Millses’ life as the sound of the wind chimes outside the sun room. They don’t even seem to notice it anymore.
“We grew up with that idea,” says Betty. “You help.”
“We were both in education,” says David. “I mean, when you’re in education, you serve.”
David has been serving as a Lions Club member since joining the Uxbridge chapter in 1974. He and Betty joined the Haliburton chapter when they retired here in the ‘90s.
As governor, David will serve more than ever. As chief administrative officer, he will oversee more than 30 committee chairpersons, supporting them both “financially and morally,” ranging from the Leos Club of 12-to 18-year-olds, Diabetes Awareness, Vision Screening. He’ll head a team of regional chairpersons, a cabinet secretary, a treasurer (the majority of whom are new). During his year-long reign, David will have a chance to focus on some of his goals for A16. One such goal is to increase membership, specifically female membership.
“I find women to be more nurturing and service oriented,” he says. “They bring a lot of skills to the club and are better organizers.”
The Haliburton and District Lions Club is unique, says David, 50 per cent of its members are Lionesses – twice the rate of female membership at clubs throughout Canada.
The day after Labour Day, David will begin his travels from club to club, spreading the centennial anniversary message of international president Bob Corlew, “New Mountains to Climb.”
He will also fundraise for his governor’s project – a music therapy program at Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto, a place which David knows both personally (when he was hit by a dump truck as a 12-year-old) and as a family member (when his eldest son, twin granddaughters, great grandson, and a nephew’s son were patients at various times). David hopes to raise between $10,000 and $15,000 to donate to the hospital.
“It seemed logical to me that I would combine my love of music with SickKids,” he says. “It seemed like a natural match.”
The club visits, encompassing a geographical area from Ajax to King City, from Omemee to Stouffville, will last six months at the rate of two to three visits per week. All this in addition to the regular Haliburton club’s fundraising activities – the raffles, the bake sales, the barbecues.
But none of this seems to daunt David and Betty.
“I’ve always said there’s a time when you join the Lions and the time you become a Lion,” David says. “The difference is the day you pay your dues and become a member, and then there’s the day when you get that ‘Aha!’ moment.”
David’s ‘aha moment’ came when he went to the Ontario Camp for the Deaf to build cabins. One of the Lions had a construction company and provided trucks and materials.
“Suddenly all these Lions descended and all these buildings went up, and I thought, holy crap, this is big stuff. We’re really helping.”
But then there’s the little stuff.
“Sometimes it’s big things but most often it’s just little things where you make a difference,” David says. “The same as life.”
Betty remembers her own aha moment, when she delivered a cheque to a family who’d lost everything in a fire, something the Lions Club provides automatically for every victim. A little boy answered the door, she says, holding a teddy bear.
“He wouldn’t let go,” says Betty, her voice catching.
David continues. “It was all he had,” he says.
Both wipe away a tear. Wind chimes fill the silence.
“We thought, we’re doing something good here, maybe we’ll just keep on doing it,” David says.