Life Before Rotary: Jeremy Wheeler

It’s all very well expecting new members to go on about “Life Before Rotary” but it becomes none too easy when one’s 72 and first joined up 38 years previously – I have the greatest difficulty remembering what happened last week let alone before 1978! The Club heard far too much about me personally when I did my “duty” talk a few weeks ago so I thought I’d expand on few bits of it which might be a touch more interesting.
During my working life, I was lucky (everything pleasant that happened to me was a matter of luck of being in the right place at the right time) enough to land clients who had interests all over the UK, in Europe and in the USA so I did quite a bit of travelling around at someone else’s expense.
Looking after the acquisitions and disposals portfolio of a household name in pharmacies took me up and down England in the 70’s and 80’s when journeys by car with markedly less traffic on the roads were so much easier than now and a pleasure.
Other clients’ affairs took me to the USA on a number of occasions – an air-spares company with offices in the UK and Miami; a contested probate case involving the PLO (remember them?) when I got to appear in Court in New York amid rather a lot of security, the more so since the judge just happened to be Jewish! What sort of weirdness in a Court Administration Department leads a case involving the PLO to be assigned to a Jewish judge?
Another “matrimonial” (although it wasn’t called that then) between two female partners took me to San Antonio when I discovered two things; first, the Alamo is a rather disappointing public park right in the middle of the city and, second, Texan women outnumber Texan men by five to three. This is manifestly apparent on entering any downtown bar, the bar-rail being draped upon by a wide variety of ladies most of whom are wearing at least one garment from which hangs “feathered leather”!
A lot of my time over a period of some twenty-five years involved Saudi clients who, through companies and trusts founded in Liechtenstein and Jersey, owned substantial properties in London. I became a director of the companies and a trustee of the trusts – only in the nominees’ sense so that they operated on the signatures of myself and a Liechtenstein lawyer rather than the clients themselves being troubled to put pen to paper – something Saudis generally are reluctant to do.
When I joined East Brighton Rotary Club in 1978, since I was young (34), in addition to immediately being lumbered with Secretary of the Community Service Committee and (my predecessor having just passed on) “Speaker-Seeker”, I was made a Rotaract Liaison Officer on the basis I was by far the closest Rotarian in age to the members of Rotaract.
District, in its infinite wisdom, appointed me Counsellor to three Rotary Foundation Scholars over the next three years, presumably on much the same basis – i.e. closeness of age.
The first was a young man from Annapolis (the banner from the Rotary Club of Annapolis is prominent in our collection) who had a first class humanities degree from Princeton and who came to Sussex to do an MA in Social and Political Thought, before returning to Columbia Law School in New York and being called to the bar. He’s now one of the senior partners in a huge US law firm and is based in Baltimore and I stayed with him at Columbia and with his family in Annapolis on a number of occasions.
The second student was a young lady from Yakima, Washington State, a few miles from Mt St. Helens – of inveterate fame. She too came to Sussex to do an MA but in some aspect of English. She was the reason – she was very attractive – the District powers-that-be – dragged me further into matters of Foundation – jealousy!
The third (another young lady – also at Sussex) came from The University of Honolulu to do research (and an MSc) into volcanology (volcanoes – of which Sussex has dozens, of course!). When she returned to the USA, she went to do her PhD at Berkeley (which has a special interest in Rotary Foundation scholarship). On one of my visits to San Francisco a couple of years later, she drove down bearing her Doctoral Diploma from Berkeley to have dinner with me and was about to return to Hawaii to a government job somewhere up a rather hot and angry mountain!
Looking after these three young people as their Foundation Counsellor was a most rewarding experience, especially taking them round to visit other Rotary Clubs in District as they were required to address as many as possible during their time at Sussex and all three, at some stage, spoke to Seaford Rotary Club.

posted: Sunday, 1 May 2016

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