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Downham Market Rotary Club’s longest-serving member George Bell looks back on 53 years





It was the year John Lennon released Imagine, Gene Wilder starred in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was born.

And 1971 was also the year that Downham Rotary Club’s longest-serving member George Bell first joined.

After 53 years at the club, George, 95, has decided that now is the time to call it a day.

George Bell, Downham Rotary Club's longest serving member, has retired aged 95
George Bell, Downham Rotary Club's longest serving member, has retired aged 95

“I will always treasure my 53 years as a member of the Rotary Cub of Downham Market,” George said.

“The friendships gained by working together on various community activities in all weather trying to help others less fortunate than ourselves.”

George, who was born in Barroway Drove, attending school there and in Nordelph, joined the Rotary club in 1971 – just 14 years after it was first formed in 1957.

George pictured with others celebrating Downham Market Rotary Club’s 65th anniversary in 2022. From left, front row, George Bell, Tony Fulford, Tony Firrell and John Alflatt, with president Martin Chilvers standing behind
George pictured with others celebrating Downham Market Rotary Club’s 65th anniversary in 2022. From left, front row, George Bell, Tony Fulford, Tony Firrell and John Alflatt, with president Martin Chilvers standing behind

He was an ironmonger at that time, and had finished his time at the Round Table club in Downham – which in those days members had to leave at the age of 40 – when he was “recruited” to the town’s Rotary club at the age of 43.

George said the club has changed a lot in the 53 years that he was a continuous member.

In the early days, members met at lunchtime, while the matter of attendance was a much stricter thing – if anyone want to miss a meeting due to a holiday, they had to write to the president seeking his permission.

What was also then a men-only setting has since welcomed women. There have since been three female presidents at Downham Rotary Club.

George pictured with others for Swaffham Rotary Club Charity Golf Day in 2017. Pictured, from left, Neil Broughton, Ian Buttha, James Bagge (then-High Sheriff of Norfolk), John Ebbage and George Bell
George pictured with others for Swaffham Rotary Club Charity Golf Day in 2017. Pictured, from left, Neil Broughton, Ian Buttha, James Bagge (then-High Sheriff of Norfolk), John Ebbage and George Bell

One of George’s proudest moments over the years was when he became one of the club’s first members to receive the Paul Harris Fellowship – the highest form of recognition a Rotary club can bestow – in 1996.

He was given a certificate and a medal in “appreciation of tangible and significant assistance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world”.

Still wishing the best for the club’s future, George is hoping his story will encourage others to join.

George with others for a Rotary cake sale at the Downham Barclays branch in 2013. From left, David Boyce (Barclays), George Bell (Rotary), Jan Wheeler (Barclays), Peter Williams (Rotary), Chris Shaw (then-Rotary president)
George with others for a Rotary cake sale at the Downham Barclays branch in 2013. From left, David Boyce (Barclays), George Bell (Rotary), Jan Wheeler (Barclays), Peter Williams (Rotary), Chris Shaw (then-Rotary president)

“I want to help dispel the idea that the Rotary is an elitist organisation,” he said.

“Our club is open to all sections of society and is not confined to Downham, we have members from most of the outlying villages.

“When the club was first formed in 1957, it may have been considered elitist – it was by invitation only, and all members came from the proprietors of business.”

George pictured celebrating his 90th birthday as Downham Market Rotary Club’s oldest member in 2018
George pictured celebrating his 90th birthday as Downham Market Rotary Club’s oldest member in 2018

It is not quite the end of George’s relationship with the club though, as he has agreed to be an honorary member – which means he can continue taking part in activities when he likes to.

Jackie Westrop, president of Downham Rotary Club, said George “embodied the spirit” of Rotary.

“George was a great servant of the club over six decades, he embodied the spirit of Rotary - service above self - and took on many major roles.

“He has encyclopaedic knowledge of the club, and was the recipient of the Paul Harris award which is well-deserved.

“The club is delighted that he has agreed to become an honorary member later this year - and is now very keen to encourage new members to join the club that has done so much for the local community."

Downham Rotary Club meets twice a month, usually on the second and fourth Mondays, except for bank holidays, at The Chequers in Wimbotsham at 7pm for 7.30pm.

Anyone interested in joining them, or finding out more information, can visit https://sites.google.com/site/therotaryclubofdownhammarket/, email downhammarketrotary@hotmail.co.uk or call 07770 756614.



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