The Rotary world was shocked on July 14th after hearing that Rotary International President Elect Sam Owori had died following complications from surgery.
District Governor Elect Bronwyn Stephens spoke of her sadness and disbelief having shared some of Sam’s journey at the Atlanta Convention. Bronwyn reported her impressions of Sam positively,
that he speaks gently and quietly, but that his message is challenging and professionally designed. For Australia and New Zealand his presidency will provide an especially powerful link to the world but mediated by the perspective of someone with great experience of the developing African Rotarianism.
Sam, who had been elected to serve as president of Rotary International in 2018-19, would have been the second African Rotary member, and the first Ugandan, to hold that office. He joined Rotary in 1978 and was a member of the Rotary Club of Kampala, Uganda.
Hilda Tadria, a member of the Rotary Club of Gaba, Uganda, and a close friend of Sam and his wife, Norah said that with his engaging smile and a calming voice, Sam put everyone he talked to at ease. One of the admirable things about Sam, Tadria says, was his love and devotion to his wife. They met in primary school in Tororo, Uganda. Sam described Norah Owori as beautiful, well-educated, and full of character.
“He adored Norah and always put her first.” Tadria says. “They were best friends and partners for life. It was very sweet to see them together. They never left each other’s side.”
Sam was highly respected in Uganda, Tadria says, for his high integrity and consistent ethical standards. Those qualities, she says, are important in a Rotary president. “He was a man everyone could trust.”
She adds, “He preferred listening to speaking. It’s one reason he was so well-liked.”
“Optimism is what brings us to Rotary. But Rotary is not a place for those who are only dreamers. It is a place for those with the ability, the capacity, and the compassion for fruitful service.”
Sam F. Owori, 1941-2017
Like many members, Sam was invited to Rotary by a persistent friend. “I did not want to go,” he cheerfully acknowledged years later. “I had no interest. But I had respect for my friend, so I went. And when I got there, I was in shock. The room was full of people I knew.”
The more Sam saw of Rotary’s good work, the more enthusiastic he became. He is largely credited with the tremendous
increase in clubs in Uganda: from nine in 1988, when he was District Governor, to 89 today. His friends called his enthusiasm “the Owori madness” — to which he mildly replied, “If it is madness, I would be glad if more people would catch it.”
Sam described himself as “an incorrigible optimist” who chose to see the best side of everyone and the bright side of any situation. Gentle in manner, unfailingly modest, and quick to smile, Sam is remembered as “Smiling Sam,” says RI President Ian Riseley.
John Smarge, who was selected by Sam to be his presidential aide, called Sam a “rock star” among Rotary members. “In just the two weeks he was president-elect, you could see how much he was loved,” Smarge says. “The Rotarians in Uganda view him as a national treasure.” Smarge adds, “He spoke with quiet confidence and simple complexity.”
Sam brought an unyielding sense of right and wrong to his work as chief executive officer of the Institute of Corporate
Governance of Uganda, to his previous work with the African Development Bank and other institutions, and to his work with Rotary.
Sam, who was one of 15 children, attributed his deep ethical sense to his upbringing, and particularly his father, who had been a school principal and then a county chief in Uganda. “He was a very strict disciplinarian,” Sam remembered, “and when he became chief, he ran that county like a big school — with a ruler. He insisted that everything was done the right way.”
Sam’s Rotary career spanned some of Uganda’s most difficult years, including the dictatorship of Idi Amin, who was deeply suspicious of Rotary and often sent agents to spy on Rotary meetings. “Sometimes people came as guests, and you wouldn’t know exactly where they were coming from or who invited them,” Sam said later. “We always welcomed them. We had nothing to hide.” Prominent Ugandan Rotary members, including Sam’s own manager at the bank where he worked, were picked off the streets by Amin’s forces and killed. Many Rotary clubs closed and most members withdrew: from a high of 220 members, Rotary membership dropped to around 20.
One day, Sam recalled, a member was taken right in front of Sam’s club. “We had just finished our meeting and were
standing in front of the entrance of the hotel. He got picked up right there in front of us. Two guys threw him in the truck of a car and we never saw him again.” Undeterred, Sam was back at his meeting the next week.
An avid learner, Sam held a graduate degree in Labor law from the University of Leicester, England; a business management degree from California Coast University; and a management graduate degree from Harvard Business School.
He served Rotary in many capacities, including RI director, trustee of The Rotary Foundation, regional Rotary Foundation coordinator, regional RI membership coordinator, and RI representative to the United Nations Environment Program and
UN-Habitat. He was a member or chair of several committees, including the International PolioPlus Committee, the Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force, and the Audit Committee.
Sam and Norah became Paul Harris Fellows, Major Donors, and Benefactors of The Rotary Foundation.
Sam is survived by his wife, Norah; three sons, Adrin Stephen, Bonny Patrick, and Daniel Timothy; and grandchildren Kaitlyn, Sam, and Adam.
Condolences can be addressed to Mrs. Norah Agnes Owori, c/o Institute of Corporate Governance of Uganda, Crusader House, Plot 3 Portal Avenue, Kampala, Uganda or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Memorial contributions in honour of Sam can be directed to the Sam F. Owori Memorial to Polio.
Rotary’s 2017-18 nominating committee will select a new president-elect, in addition to the president-nominee, during its scheduled meeting in early August.
“The African Continent and indeed the whole Rotary family stood still when the news of the passing on of our very own RIPE Sam filtered in. Sam was a man, too many. He gave his all for the cause of serving humanity. His, was a life that exemplified service, selflessness, patriotism and friendship. A life that inspired emulation... RIPE Sam always wore a smile that defined his personality... His demeanour was gentle and his ideas very logical!
Sam's greatest passion was membership growth and retention in Rotary. Can we then as one family ensure that each of us bring in one quality person into Rotary this year and in doing this help Sam actualize his greatest passion?
Yes, we can also in our very unique ways realize Sam’s pronouncement in 2014 which he tagged, 'Owori Recommended Rotary Density' (ORRD) for Africa. This simply translates to Africa targeting 0.01% of her Population or better still 100,000 Rotarians in Africa by 2024.
Indeed our thoughts are with Sam’s immediate family, the Rotary family especially members of the Rotary Club of Kampala where Sam served humanity for over 38 years. We also condole with the government and People of Uganda in this moment of grief. We are consoled by the indelible footprints which Sam left as well as challenged to make a difference in our world, the ideals Sam worked for. As we mourn your demise RIPE Sam, we ask you to continue to watch over us and inspire us to give our best in serving mankind.”
As the District Governors Elect for Zone 7b, who would have served our Rotary community under the leadership of Sam Owori, and all other current and past District Governors and Rotarians in New Zealand, we would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to Sam’s wife and family, and to the RI community, who are no doubt reeling with shock and grief at this time. We were very much looking forward to working with Sam and especially to welcoming him and his wife Norah to our Symposium in September this year. Please pass on this message to Sam’s family and colleagues.
Our thoughts are best expressed in our native Maori language below (provided and also translated by DGE Jerry Norman):
Kua hinga atu te Kauri o te wao nui o Tane. (The great majestic Kauri tree of Tane has fallen). Kua hinga te Pou o to whānau. (Te pillar of the family has fallen). Kua hinga te Pou o Rotary. (The pillar of our Rotary family has fall-en). Haere atu ra e Sam ki tua o te Arai ki te Ao rangimarie, ki te Ao mamae kore. (Farewell Sam to beyond the horizon of the living, rest in peace in that pain-free world). Haere ki te Ao wairua, ki te wahi I whakairohia mo te tangata. (Farewell to the spiritual realm that has been sculpted for all). Kua wahangu to reo ki te Aoturoa nei. (Your voice has been silenced in our living world). He pou herenga tangata koe ki raro i te korowai o te aroha. (You united people under the cloak of compassion for all). Rangatira o mahi mo Rotary e kore e warewaretia. (Your commitment to the ideals and values of Rotary was chiefly and immeasurable and will never be forgotten). Rite tonu ki te kotukuu rerenga tahi, kei roto koe I te Ao o maumahara. (Likewise, like the final flight of the heron, you will remain forever in the world of memory. Haere, haere, haere atu ra. (Farewell. farewell, farewell)
Ki te whānau pani. (To the bereaved family). Ta matou arohanui rawa ki a koutou. (Our sincere condolences) Mai i o roimata pouri, roimata aroha, whakanui i nga mahara mo tenei rangatira. (From your tears of sorrow and love, celebrate the life of this great chief). Ko tera te whakaaro o Rotary whanui hoki. (Rotarians from around the world will certainly celebrate Sam's contribution to humanity).
Ki mai ki ahau. (If you ask me). He aha te mea nui o te Ao. (What is the greatest gift in this world). Maku e ki atu. (I will reply). He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. (It is people, it is people, it is people).
Nga mihi (Greetings)