Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Our American Right

One of our chamber members and local business leaders has recently taken another step into the international business arena. Ralph Daetwyler, President of Max Daetwyler Corporation in Huntersville, was recently honored when he was named the Honorary Consul to Estonia for North Carolina. In this distinguished role, Ralph will assist Estonians in North Carolina as well as abroad in business and investment related recommendations and general informative work on topics such as society, education and culture in Estonia.

I had the honor of attending Ralph’s appointment for this role at an event at his home in Cornelius along with govt officials from Estonia, Switzerland and Huntersville. Ralph proudly told us all, “It is my privilege to be named honorary consul to Estonia. Daetwyler USA provides manufacturing expertise on various projects to our Estonian subsidiary, and this working relationship has given us a very good understanding of their culture. This insight will enable us to effectively assist any Estonian company that is exploring North Carolina as a potential base for their U.S. operations.”

While there I had the opportunity to chat with Marina Kaljurand, Ambassador of Estonia, Sten Schwede, consul general of Estonia and Heinz Roth, honorary consul of Switzerland, as well as Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain and board members Sarah McAulay and Melinda Bales. That evening reminded me about an experience I had in 1991 with the Estonia Junior Chamber that I shared with the Ambassador.

That year, I served as National Vice President of the US Junior Chamber and attended the Junior Chamber International (JCI) World Congress in Helsinki, Finland.  At that event, Junior Chamber Estonia was recognized as a fully affiliated national organization in JCI.  I will never forget watching Erlend Tammenurm from Rapla, Estonia as he took his place on stage in front of more than 4,000 International delegates waving his country’s flag with tears in his eyes.  At first I was taken back that this professional and reserved man would openly show such emotion on the occasion.

Estonia Ambassador Kaljurand and Bill Russell

Then I was reminded it had only been a few years since Estonia was a country of the Soviet Union and public assemblies and the right to freely associate would have not just been discouraged – many would have been imprisoned.

As President of the United States Junior Chamber (Jaycees) and later as an International officer, I had the chance to visit with delegations from throughout the world. However, the single most powerful occasion was seeing the impact that moment had on Erlend.

This month, on November 6th, Americans will have the chance to exercise a right we often take for granted – the right to vote for our elected leadership.  As Americans, we have the freedom to choose who will represent us in Washington, Raleigh, and right here at home in Mecklenburg County. We should not forget that throughout this world many people do not have that right – their voice cannot be heard and the will of the majority does not prevail.

Each of us has that right because generations of Americans have paid dearly though their sacrifice – young men and women who stand watch and in some cases pay with their lives, so that we may vote on Election Day.

It was a privilege meeting the Ambassador of Estonia and honoring Ralph in his new role. I regret though that one detail, small as it may have been, was omitted when I shared with Ambassador Kaljurand my story.  I neglected to tell her as I watched Erlend Tammenurm wave his country’s flag – his smile as big as the stage he was on – with the tears which streamed down his cheeks …  maybe it was the moment, I’ll never know… but I cried too.

Advertisements

October 30, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Remarkable Journey – Strom Thurmond

This article was written in December of 2006 following the death of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond.

 

Last month two significant events occurred which had a profound impact on Americans and southerners in particular.  One was a dramatic Supreme Court decision ruling that racial preferences can be used for undergraduate and law school admissions.  Just a few days after the Supreme Court decision, in the little South Carolina town of Edgefield, a political giant slipped away.  Strom Thurmond left a huge footprint on American politics.  The only write-in Senate candidate ever elected, Thurmond transformed the political landscape of the south.

 

Thurmond supporters cannot defend the segregationist views of his past.  In 1957, he led a 24-hour filibuster on a civil rights bill that still ranks as the longest speech ever on the senate floor.  However, this same Senator abandoned his separatist rhetoric and in 1983 voted to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.  In 1987, when the government was considering defunding the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, King’s widow called on Senator Thurmond.  An hour later the Senator had preserved the commission and had doubled its funding.

 

I met the Senator while I was president of the South Carolina Jaycees. Jaycee chapters organize many of South Carolina’s parades and festivals and the two of us found ourselves in outdoor events across the state.  Two years later, while President of the United States Junior Chamber, our organization was holding a Governmental Affairs program in Washington, DC.  A member of my staff called Senator Thurmond’s office to inquire whether he could coordinate a tour of the capitol for the fifty state Jaycee Presidents and my Executive Committee.  The staff member said they would check and call back.  In a few minutes, my secretary informed me Senator Strom Thurmond was on the phone.  The Senator said it would be an honor to lead the tour himself.  For nearly two hours, my state Senator took our group on a journey through time.  A journey he had made through his years of service to our state and country.strom00011

 

By now it is quite evident the pride I have of the elder statesman of my native state.  Could he have done more for civil rights when he had the opportunity?  Yes.  Could he have said, “I’m sorry for my earlier views?”  Absolutely.  But when many politicians let their words speak for their intentions, Thurmond’s actions spoke louder than the words.

Race is still used in hiring and admissions.  People of all colors practice it when they choose where to shop, where to dine,  and where to vacation.  Strom Thurmond spent seven decades in politics and while he could have done more for civil rights, he changed the way people felt about each other.  Some day because of leaders like Strom Thurmond and Martin Luther King, Jr. we will realize it’s not enough to be equal in the eyes of the law, we must be equal in the eyes of each other.  Let’s hope that day is soon.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment