Royce Abbey, former RI president and war hero, dies at 91

A.H. Royce Abbey, a former RI president and World War II hero who championed the inclusion of women members in Rotary clubs, died on 20 February. He was 91.

In addition to his term as RI president in 1988-89, he served as RI vice president and director, Foundation trustee chair, committee member and chair, International Assembly moderator, and district governor. Abbey, who joined Rotary in 1954, was a member of the Rotary Club of Essendon, Victoria, Australia.

“I will always remember Royce for his enthusiasm, his relentless energy, and ‘can do’ attitude,” says Clem Renouf, a fellow Australian Rotary member, who served as RI president in 1978-79. “He always said, ‘Rotary takes ordinary men and gives them extraordinary opportunities to do more with their lives than they had ever dreamed possible.’”

During his term as RI president, one of the most dramatic changes in Rotary’s history occurred when the Council of Legislation changed the constitutional documents to allow women membership to Rotary clubs.

Past RI President Charles Keller, who served with Abbey on the RI Board in 1975-76, remembers how Abbey embraced the landmark decision.

“Royce championed that decision,” says Keller. “He knew this would strengthen Rotary’s effectiveness worldwide. He was the perfect president for Rotary at the time. Rotary prospered during his term.”

Abbey was a recipient of The Rotary Foundation Citation for Meritorious Service and its Distinguished Service Award.

The presidential theme during Abbey’s term, Put Life Into Rotary – Your Life, urged Rotary members to make a personal commitment to their community and Rotary. “Royce lived his motto. He put his life into Rotary’s present and future and the organization thrived because of it,” says Keller.

Royal honors

Abbey’s commitment to community service was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II, who, on Australia Day in 1988, made him a Member of the Order of Australia. The next year he was chosen Victorian of the Year by the State of Victoria. Additionally, while serving in World War II, Abbey was awarded one of Australia’s highest military honors, the Distinguished Conduct Medal for an act of heroism and leadership.

Abbey was active in his church, enjoyed playing the guitar and table tennis, and became a YMCA leader. He was a life governor of the National Council of YMCAs of Australia, and a Patron of the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund. He was also a board member of the Greenvale Centre of the Aged.He is survived by his wife, Jean, and his children Susan, David, Robyn, and Leigh. In lieu of flowers, a donation may be made in memory of Royce to The Rotary Foundation. Condolences can be sent to the Rotary Club of Essendon, P.O. Box 161, Essendon 3040, Australia.

Memorial services will be held on Friday, 28 February, at the Melbourne Town Hall, cnr Collins Street, Melbourne, at 14:30.

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