Rotarians are pillars of business and industry. Their parking places are reserved. Their offices have a nice view. Some used to pin stars on their shoulders. But no matter what their stature or standing, they don't want to tangle with Miss Mary.
Mary Reed is secretary of the Rotary Club of Columbus. More than that she's the Conscience of Rotary, an assignment she inherited from her late husband Dan. She's a gentle lady with a sweet southern accent.
Until you miss a meeting.
"If I walk into the meeting and she gives me a big hug, I feel wonderful. If I walk in and she gives me that look, I know I need to make up a meeting," said Tripp Wade, a fourth-generation member.
Tripp has 24 years of perfect attendance at Rotary and in most families that would be impressive. But he has done the math and he knows he'll never catch his great Uncle Tom.
Thomas P. Wade was a railroad man who never learned to drive a car. The club is celebrating its 100th anniversary on Feb. 25 and he joined soon after it began. When he died in 1971, he had more than 54 years of perfect attendance -- a number later matched by the late Thacker Cargill.
"If Uncle Tom missed a meeting, he'd make it up somewhere up and down the rail line," Tripp said, remembering stories of his childhood.
Uncle Tom, Cargill and Jack Key Jr. are the gold standard of a club that expects members to be in their seats when the gong sounds. They are the only ones to show up every Wednesday for more than 50 years.
Key died two weeks ago. That leaves Wilson Camp and Lamar Powers at 45 years each. Behind them are 13 Rotarians with at least 30 years. Believe it or not, 47 of the club's 350 members have more than 20 years of perfect attendance.
Churches have members they only see on Christmas or Easter, but this club has members who will find a Rotary meeting wherever they are in the world. Rotary International even has an online service where you can make up missed meetings.
These people take their civic club serious. If they don't know, they'll have to answer to Miss Mary, and they don't call her the Attendance Nazi for nothing.
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906 @knology.net