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Planes and pals. Fellowship and family.

George Ritchie with his Piper Cherokee 6 registered G-IFFR. His car has the same number plate, too.

Most people know that Rotary is a worldwide collection of like-minded people divided into clubs — about 30,000 across the world — where friends meet for service and fellowship.

Not many people — and not too many Rotarians, according to George Ritchie — know that there are fellowship groups in which Rotarians can share a passion for hobbies.

As World President Elect 2022-24 of the International Fellowship of Flying Rotarians, George Ritchie knows that better than most. When COVID prevented Rotary clubs from meeting to face to face, George’s friend Rodney Spokes, a member of the Rotary Club of Leicester, circulated a list of speakers happy to entertain clubs via Zoom.

Since then George has spoken to about 50 clubs, the latest being Leicester Novus, whose Secretary Pam is married to Rodney.

George’s PowerPoint presentation was entitled North To 60 North. It retraced the flight from near Luton to Finnland for the 2017 convention of the IFFR.

August, he told his audience of ten members and two visiting Rotarians, can bring bad weather. So he and his wife set off a couple of days earlier than originally planned and flew south from his base at RAF Henlow, Bedfordshire, to cross the Channel at its narrowest point before turning his 1979 Piper Cherokee 6 north over the Low Countries to arrive in Turku for a weekend of fellowship with Rotary members from all over Europe.

George’s father was a member of IFFR and George passed his pilot’s licence before he passed his driving licence. While in Rotaract (a part of the Rotary family for 18-30s) he met Caroline who shares his love of flying. He accompanied his parents on a flying visit to the 2007 IFFR convention in Sweden where his father was awarded a trophy to be held for a year. Sadly, his father did not live long enough to return it, so a year on George did so on behalf of his father. The IFFR made George an honorary member. That was in 2008.

In 2017 George Ritchie was inducted into the Rotary Club of Westminster International, by then president John Bartlett, right, who pinned his membership badge to his lapel while Rodney Spokes pinned to the other lapel a badge marking him as a full member of the International Fellowship of Flying Rotarians

Ten years later, after he had joined the Rotary Club if Westminster, George made his flight to Turku, Finnland, and received in his own right the trophy his father had been awarded. The family connection with recreational flying is continuing, as the oldest of George’s two daughters also gained her private pilot’s licence before going on to work on the ground at Manchester Airport and then Stansted.

The message that George and Rodney left with Rotarians was: “There are dozens of fellowships in which Rotary members can share passions and interests as well as be united in Rotary service.”

It was clear from the number and variety of questions what George’s audience had been entertained and engaged by is talk and the wonderful photos taken from 5,000 feet above Europe one week in August 2017.

Last edited: 22:00 on Thursday, 18/06/2021