Mother-daughter duo first and only in Lima Rotary

LIMA — Of all the innumerable ways Lima Symphony Orchestra executive director Elizabeth Brown has been influenced by her mother, it’s a commitment to service that is the most visible quality.

That’s because Elizabeth, 50, and her mother, Rita Brown, 72, an executive recruiter for the human resources and payroll giant ADP, serve together in the Lima chapter of Rotary International. They believe they are the first, and only, mother-daughter duo in the local club.

“There’s a father and a daughter who are both members, but as far as I know they are only mother-daughter,” said Lima Rotary president David Runk.

Chanele Williams, media specialist for Rotary International, could not say how many other mother-daughter duos are in Rotary overall. “There are just so many clubs,” she said. “But I think it’s an interesting story.”

It’s one that makes Rita Brown, Lima Rotary’s secretary, glow with quiet pride.

“That’s exciting to me,” she said. “I really like that, I admit.”

She sat next to Elizabeth at a table in the North Hall of Veterans Memorial Civic Center on a recent Monday, before Lima Rotary’s weekly lunchtime meeting. They are active members, with Rita spearheading the local chapter’s 100th anniversary gala last year and Elizabeth recently elected to participate on the group’s Foundation Board, which makes decisions about Lima Rotary’s charitable giving.

Both women say community service was instilled in them early in their adult lives, Rita through her career in banking and finance, and Elizabeth through her mom.

“When I joined Bank One [now JPMorgan Chase], every officer of the bank was in some sort of service organization,” Rita said. “It was absolutely expected of us to do so.”

She joined Rotary International’s Lima chapter in 1992, just four years after the then-77-year-old organization had accepted its first female member, Dr. Susan Hubbell.

The Lima chapter was ahead of the curve in doing this. It was another year before Rotary International’s Council on Legislation voted to admit women into its clubs worldwide in 1989.

“About that time, there were about seven or eight of us,” Rita said. She gave a little chuckle. “It was a different kind of organization at that time, and the men were still getting used to the women back then.”

Now, women make up about 27 percent of Lima Rotary’s members, she said.

She said she chose Rotary over other service groups, such as Lions Club or Optimist International or Kiwanis, because of its “international aspect.” Rotary International claims 1.2 million members worldwide, with about 14,000 in 310 clubs in Ohio alone. The group’s goals are “promoting peace, preventing diseases, providing access to clean water and sanitation, enhancing maternal and child health, improving basic education and literacy, and helping communities develop,” according to its website. It has a special focus on efforts to eradicate polio, with $35 million in grants awarded last January.

Elizabeth became a Rotarian in 2013 after becoming executive director of the Lima Symphony Orchestra, in part because past directors had been members. But she said it was largely because Rotary has been such an important part of her mother’s life.

“For me to be able to be a part of that is really neat,” she said. “To watch her operate in a more professional manner — because you’re used to seeing your parents at home — to see her in a business capacity, trailblazing, is really cool.”

Lima Rotary president David Runk, a third-generation Rotarian, said he understands the intergenerational draw that Rotary can have.

“My grandfather and father were both presidents of the Lima club,” he said. “I was proud of what they did. My dad was held in high regard in the community and I wanted to emulate that. Who doesn’t want to be like their dad or their mom?”

He said Rita Brown has been involved “in any and every way she could,” spurred by a desire to help others who are less fortunate.

“Rita Brown is a tremendous person and I’m sure a lot of what Elizabeth has accomplished in her lifetime is because Rita is her mom,” Runk said.

Elizabeth, an attorney by training, said she has learned a lot about her mother by working together on Rotary service projects.

“She is a quiet leader. She is incredibly strong. She is tremendously principled but she’s not gonna be the one who bangs on the table,” said Elizabeth. She said her mother is more likely to lead by example “or by occasionally nudging you when you get off the path!”

But she got no nudge, no pressure at all from her mom to join Rotary.

“She did not invite me or sponsor me,” said Elizabeth, glancing at her mom. “I had to do this on my own, which is the way I think it should be. When I became executive director of the Lima Symphony, previous directors had been members of Rotary. And obviously, I was very aware of Rotary because of mom’s involvement.”

She said she’s also been aware of the organization from its various local projects, including the River Walk in Heritage Park and the All People’s Trail at Kendrick Woods, trails she’s enjoyed with her two teenage sons.

“I found that Rotary was touching my life before I even became a member,” she said.

When asked what she’s learned about her daughter through their joint service work, Rita Brown sighed and grew quiet. The words that had been coming so easily about Rotary suddenly vanished.

“I don’t want to cry!” she said, her eyes reddening. She paused and took a breath.

“She is professional, she is grounded, she sees the big picture. She’s extremely fair and she has a dignity. She can lead through most any kind of troubled waters. I respect her so very much.”

While there’s no chance of having a mother-daughter-granddaughter service legacy at Lima Rotary, Elizabeth Brown’s two teenage sons give the women hope of a mother-daughter-grandson combination.

“That would be a first, too,” mused Rita Brown.

“They’re young yet,” noted Elizabeth Brown with a smile. “We have some time.”

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Rita Brown and her daughter Elizabeth Brown at a Lima Rotary Meeting. Brown and her daughter Elizabeth Brown at a Lima Rotary Meeting. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

Elizabeth Brown, left, and her mother Rita Brown, far right, chat with Esther Baldridge, a past president of Lima Rotary during a recent meeting. Brown, left, and her mother Rita Brown, far right, chat with Esther Baldridge, a past president of Lima Rotary during a recent meeting. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News
Rita Brown and Elizabeth Brown reflect on doing community service together

By Amy Eddings

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Reach Amy Eddings at 567-292-0379 or Twitter, @lima_eddings.