World Polio Day Celebration October 23, 2019

The excitement was bubbling as Rotarians, Visiting Rotarians and dozens of guests crowded Weber’s Ballroom to hear Ann Lee Hussey tell her personal story of a life with polio. President Rosemarie gaveled the celebration to order, we sang The Star Spangled Banner and O Canada. Karen Driggs told the story of Jonas Salk and French painter Francoise Gilot who had a very happy 25 year unconventional second marriage. Karen reminded us that happiness can be found late in life if we remain open to change and compromise.

President Rosemarie dispensed with much of the business part of our meeting. She greeted Rotarians and guests, then talked about all the things Rotary does both locally and around the world, emphasizing our theme of Helping Kids Succeed.

Notes from the Program

Joanne Pierson introduced our speaker, Ann Lee Hussey. Ann Lee is a member of the Portland Sunrise Club in Berwick, Maine. She and her husband, both Rotarians, recently sold their veterinary clinic. In addition to her many polio activities and working as a veterinary tech, Ann Lee has been very active in Rotary, serving a District Governor in 2010 and 2011.

There was total silence as Ann Lee told her story of life with polio.  She contracted the disease just three short months after the Salk vaccine was declared safe and effective.  She was one of 28,585 people who contracted the disease in 1955, and she was seventeen months old.  After she returned from the hospital her mother massaged and exercised her legs, every three hours, around the clock, while also caring for her four older siblings.  Her childhood was marked by her difference – the teasing, the being left out of activities, the struggle to get around.  Her name and story were reported in her local paper.  A stranger, Mrs. Woodbury, living in another town, sent her mother a note of encouragement, and thus began a lifelong friendship.  When she was old enough, she began writing Mrs. Woodbury, who never failed to send notes and cards to commemorate so many life events, always enclosing two dollars.  The friendship endured until Mrs. Woodbury died at age 80.  She taught Ann Lee the meaning of giving, and the art of receiving.  Every day she remembers that small kindnesses mean very much to other people.

After more surgeries and therapy sessions than one can count, Ann Lee walks with a limp.  But that has not stopped her from traveling the world to help eradicate this crippling disease.  She went on her first National Immunization Day trip in 2001 in India.  She has now done more than thirty trips in ten countries in Asia and Africa.   Her praise goes to the thousands of health care workers who educate and prepare villagers for the immunization days.  These people, 80% of whom are women, go to each household to explain the disease, how it spreads, and how the immunizations protect people from polio.  This is often a dangerous job, not only to get to remote villages and towns but also to overcome suspicion and hostility to outsiders.  Ann Lee was able to bring to life for us the experience of people surging forward to greet the immunization team, eager and grateful to have the opportunity to protect their children.

Ann Lee urged us all to tell the Rotary story, even though our audiences will be much smaller than hers.  The effort to eradicate polio has enlisted 200 nations and has five major participants:  Rotary International, the World Health Organization, CDC, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Though most of us will not experience the personal rewards that come when we see healthy, happy, excited faces of children receiving this life changing vaccine, we can all do something, even if just contributing money, to eradicate polio.

There had not been a sound since Ann Lee began speaking, but the silence split by thunderous applause, and more than a few sniffles.

District Governor Sparky Leonard bounded up to the podium, thanking Ann Lee for her so moving and personal story.  He greeted Rotarians and guests with his usual enthusiasm.  He then got to the purpose of his visit – auctioning off Paulie the Polio Bear.  Competition was hot and fierce, but Collyer Smith was the winner with his very generous $2000.00 bid.

President Rosemarie closed the meeting with more thanks to Ann Lee and urged all of us to heed Ann Lee’s wish – that we all do something to eraidcate polio.