Carole Burke made a check presentation to the Rotary Club of Mount Airy last week from the Frank Smith World Law Fund. The donation was in the amount of $2,000 that will aid the local Rotarians in future projects.
The presentation gave Burke a chance to take the club on a “trip down memory lane” and a trip back in time as she told the group of her trip to the United Nations. She gave context to the life of Frank Smith as it related to his desire to grow future leaders – herself among them – and promote peace.
He established a fund that would promote the United Nations because of the world wars. “He abhorred war. He felt the only solution to end war was to have world peace. He wanted to talk about students writing an essay and going to the United Nations to learn about world peace and the organization itself,” she said.
A graduate of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Burke recalled, “When we would go to conferences usually, he was always the oldest graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and back then then I was the youngest graduate attending these meetings.”
Smith made his money in the Mount Airy Granite Quarry and used to tell her tales of his experiences.
He told Burke years ago that he had written a memoir of his life entitled “Memories of a 92-Year-Old Male.” While accurate at that time, she noted he would need to rename his book annually. Smith changed it to ‘Memories of a 94-Year-Old Male’ and left it there. There is one copy of his book in the Mount Airy Library, a gift from of Bob Ferris via Smith.
The Mount Airy Rotary Club has for many years sponsored a teacher and student from Mount Airy High School high to attend the American Freedom Association’s Global Issues trip to the United Nations; the 2023 trip will be the 70th such trip.
Established in 1953 as a movement in support of public education toward world peace, since its founding the American Freedom Association has organized a high school essay and public speaking program and the annual Southeastern World Affairs Institute. The organization has a long-standing relationship with UNC Peace Scholars program sponsored by Rotary International.
Students participate in a 1,000-word essay with the topic is chosen by teachers who participate in the program. The top essay from Mount Airy High then becomes eligible to receive the Oscar Merritt Scholarship that was established by the Mount Airy industrialist in 1953.
Merritt covered a lot of ground in his life of work from operating an orchard, to research and development in textile manufacturing, to land surveying and mapping, to commercial manager in the Caribbean sugar industry. It was written that Merritt, “Ascribed to the theory that if anyone thinks he has an idea that might preserve peace, (they) should be working on that idea 24 hours a day.”
“The boys and girls in our high schools today, tomorrow must take over leadership, not only of our own nation, but to a large extent of the whole world,” he said. “Has any generation ever faced so great a responsibility? Are we giving our young people the information and training they need?”
The winning essay’s author and their teacher then make the trek to New York City to see the sights, tour the United Nations with a tour guide, and receive a briefing from a United Nations official. The top four essays are presented at the United Nations before officials and the top essay received the prestigious Oscar Merritt Scholarship.
Burke was among the students on the 1963 edition of the trip, and she handed out a commemorative brochure that documented the trip each high school’s winner took to New York. It held a photo of “all the delegates that went to the United Nations from this program that was started in Mount Airy by industrialists who felt like we cannot go through another war, it has devastated our country.”
Photos showed the beehive hair styles and thick glasses of the day but more importantly showed the North Carolina delegates up close and personal in the halls of the United Nations. The attended a briefing with a representative of the United Arab Republic to hear his thoughts on the “Israeli-Arab dispute.” At that time, the U.A.R. was the given name to Egypt after Syria withdrew from their partnership in 1961.
Peace remains the mission and the goal today as it was for Smith and those who started the Merritt Scholarship. Burke explained that every year is declared as the “Year of International World Peace” and 2023 is to be no exception. “We were challenged to go back to our clubs and communities and ask that 2023 be declared as the International Year of Peace.”
As a Tarheel, the number 23 jumps out at her for the connection to one Michael Jordan. “We want to make 2023 a year where each of us dedicate ourselves individually, our families, our friends, and everybody we know to a year of international world peace. It does happen to be the year that Michael Jordan turns 60 years old, so there will be a very special celebration on Feb. 17.”
Tonda Phillips leads the local Rotary of Mount Airy and agreed with the notion of spreading peace starting at home, “Rotary still works toward world peace, and it starts right here with our individual members. We all give money per quarter which goes to world projects.”
Burke summarized, “We want everything we do in Rotary to be about the truth, and we want it to be beneficial to all. We want to be the crown Rotarians that are international peacekeepers, and we want to do everything we can to promote peace first with ourselves, our clubs, our city, our community, and our schools.”