For Rotarians, Polio survivors and many others all around the world, the death of Sir Clem Renouf on 11 June 2020 was an extremely sad occasion. To most Australians and particularly residents of the Sunshine Coast, Sir Clem was a hero – a towering yet unassuming man who devoted his life to humanitarian work and the eradication of poliomyelitis. Sir Clement William Bailey Renouf, AM was born in Ingham, Queensland on 19 April 1921. One of six children who all spent two years at boarding school in Charters Towers as there was no High School in Ingham. Sir Clem, who said after graduating from Year 9 ‘with a pass that was better than average but nothing to write home about’, went on to employment with a local accountant and immediately enrolled in an accountancy course with The Hemingway Robertson Institute.
However, World War II interrupted his studies and Sir Clem who didn’t fancy joining the army – ‘all that marching and living in trenches and shooting and killing with bayonets’ – enlisted in the RAAF and became a Bomber pilot. His narrative about joining up at age 19, passing the eyesight test and the bombing missions with the ‘6’ and ‘13’ squadrons, flying ‘Lockheed Hudson’ and ‘Beaufort’ Bombers, is both entertaining and remarkable.
After the War he completed his accounting qualifications and arrived in Nambour Queensland in October 1946, setting up his accountancy practice. He met June Day, a Receptionist at a local doctor’s office and they married on 10 February 1951. They had two children: Noel born in 1952 and Judy born in 1954. As Sir Clem said, he and June had ‘42 incomparable years of happiness and shared Rotary experiences, before a non-malignant brain tumour snuffed out her life in November 1993′.
As a newcomer to Nambour, Sir Clem realised that he needed to become involved in his local community. He admitted that getting to know people was against his natural inclinations. He was fairly retiring, and had to force himself to be involved in clubs. He was even reticent in asking June to marry him and was only spurred on by the fact that another rather dashing young man was also interested in her. He joined the local RSL, bowls and tennis Clubs and became President of the Nambour RSL sub-branch in 1949.
Less than three years after opening his business, Sir Clem was approached by representatives of Rotary Club of Gympie about the possibility of forming a Rotary club. He became the Charter Secretary for the Rotary Club of Nambour which was chartered on 26 September 1949. He was District Governor in 1965-66 and remained a member of Rotary until his death in June.
He joined the Rotary International (RI) Board of Directors in July 1970 and became President of RI for 1978-79. He said his presidential year was dominated by two controversial events that were destined to have far reaching effects on Rotary’s future. The first event put Rotary in the news for all the wrong reasons. The RI Board had withdrawn the charter of The Rotary Club of Duarte in California for having flouted the constitution by admitting three women into membership. The board had no option. Its first duty was to uphold the constitution. Women were finally permitted to join Rotary in 1987.
The second event was the launch of the Health, Hunger and Humanity (3H) program, against the entrenched opposition of a group of senior Rotarians; however, the program was introduced and Rotary Clubs have obtained Global grants for various successful 3H initiatives worldwide. For example, one of the projects Sir Clem himself highlighted was in Bangladesh. Under a 3H grant a man, one of a number trained in the techniques of inland fish farming, is now a successful small business man with fourteen fish ponds, providing employment and supplying a much needed high protein supplement to the diet of his local people.
In 1979, under Sir Clem’s leadership, RI began its fight against polio with a multiyear project to immunise 6 million children in the Philippines. At that time 350,000 children a year were dying from polio. Today, thanks to Rotary and its partners, 99% of the world is polio free.
In his biography, Sir Clem wrote that ‘one’s Rotary experiences don’t occur in isolation, but influence and are influenced by the factors and events that shape our personal lives’. Remembering the sacrifices his parents made to educate six children during the Depression years, and knowing how important education is, in 2010, he set aside more than $500,000 to fund two scholarships a year for Sunshine Coast students. With interest, he hopes his investment will see 80 students helped to achieve their academic dreams until 2050.
Sir Clem said that ‘Rotary takes ordinary men and gives them extraordinary opportunities to do more with their lives than they had ever dreamed possible.’ Many Clubs, including the Rotary Club of Bribie Island, were inspired by these words and in 2010 they raised the extraordinary amount of $20,000 for the End Polio campaign.
Affectionately known as the Dynamo from Downunder, Sir Clem was the second Australian to become Rotary International President. He was an eloquent and inspirational speaker and a gifted writer. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1979, knighted in 1988 ‘for outstanding service to the community’ and awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001.
As well as his two children Noel and Judy, Sir Clem is survived by his second wife Lady Firth Renouf and step children Sheridan, Rosemary and Brian and sisters Betty and Lynette. As his funeral notice said he was a much large part of the lives of two large extended families, their partners, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Vale Sir Clem. People all around the world are just so sorry that you won’t be here to celebrate 100 years of Rotary in Australia in 2021 and to see your dream of a polio-free world come true. But as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said ‘When a great man dies, for years beyond the light he leaves behind him lies upon the paths of men.’ You have certainly left your light on us and it will shine brightly for many years to come.