By Andy Rieger
The Norman Transcript
LISBON, Portugal — Immediately after giving his first speech during Rotary’s 104th International Convention here Tuesday afternoon, Norman’s Ron Burton was descended upon like a rock star after a sold-out concert.
Speaking dozens of languages, Rotarians rushed the stage to have their photo taken with and shake hands with the incoming president of the 1.2 million-member organization. Convention attendees handed over presents, banners and business cards to Burton, who seemed to take it all in stride.
“I don’t mind having my picture taken with folks now because, in two years, no one will want their picture taken with me,” Burton joked at a luncheon in his honor. “As we say in Oklahoma, I’m going to ride this horse as far as we can go.”
Burton, a Duncan native who retired in 2007 as executive director of the OU Foundation, will preside over Rotary’s 34,534 clubs after this week’s convention. He replaces Sakuji Tanaka of Yashio, Japan.
About three dozen central Oklahoma Rotarians traveled here to celebrate the presidency and support Burton and his wife, Jetta. Only one other Oklahoman, Everett W. Hill, has ever served as international president. Hill presided from1924 to 1925.
The visiting Oklahomans will appear on stage with Burton during the final convention session Wednesday afternoon. The presidents of the Norman Rotary Club and the Yashio, Japan, Rotary Club will exchange a presidential banner before about 20,000 guests Wednesday afternoon.
The state’s anthem played during Tuesday’s luncheon. The Burtons’ two children and three grandchildren are also in Lisbon for the festivities.
A member of the Norman Rotary Club, Burton challenged his fellow Rotarians to “get up out of your chairs and do something positive.”
He said he was proud to be a Rotarian and would be giving it all he had during his 2013-2014 presidency.
Earlier Tuesday, Rotarians were updated on their quest to eradicate polio through vaccination of millions of children. The campaign, begun in 1986 when polio was active in 125 countries, has narrowed the disease to a few cases in Nigeria, Pakistan Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
A World Health Organization doctor said the number of polio viruses is at its lowest level in history, but there are still major challenges to ending the disease.
Rotarians have joined with a global vaccination initiative to raise $5.5 billion to eradicate the disease by 2018. More than $4 billion was pledged earlier this year at the Global Vaccine Summit in April. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to match Rotarian gifts 2 for 1 up to $35 million a year for the next five years.