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Trees For The Capital

One of the places to be during a Spring in Washington, D.C, is the Tidal Basin. There is no other places like it, with all these cherry trees. Every year, The Washington Rotary Club helps planting trees around the city, so people can enjoy beautiful green parks. The Tidal Basin being no exception. Dr. Hancock, as a member of the Rotary takes part into this action.

Brief History of “Trees for the Capital” Program

There are many hallmarks that identify the Washington Rotary Club and Foundation. Prominent among these hallmarks is the “Trees for the Capital” Program. The program is funded by the Foundation as are many Club outreach activities. You can see the Club and the Foundation in action every Wednesday when we present our speaker with a certificate saying we will plant a tree on the Tidal Basin commemorating the occasion.

The “Trees for the Capital” program has a long and interesting history involving Rotary International, the City of Washington, D.C., The White House, and the Washington Rotary Club and Foundation. It had its beginning in 1990 under the dedicated and unique leadership of the late Peter Gilsey who will long be remembered by the Washington Rotary Club.

“This is how it happened and then became a Washington Rotary tradition. I was president of the Club 1990-1991. Paulo Costa, a Brazilian and wealthy owner of a large construction firm in Brazil, was president of Rotary International. His theme for the year was “Save Planet Earth” and a major approach to carrying out that theme was to involve Rotary in a world-wide tree planting program.

In that period it was a routine practice for the Washington Rotary Club, being at the seat of government, to arrange a get-acquainted meeting between the RI President and the President of the United States, with the Washington Rotary president also in attendance. That meeting was arranged early in the Rotary year but took place at whatever time the White House schedule would permit.

Such a meeting was arranged between RI President Costa and President George H. W. Bush. I cannot recall whether President Bush was interested in tree planting before that meeting, which lasted about twenty minutes, but most of the conversation was about the environment, restoring forests, and planting trees. Nevertheless, President Bush became very interested in tree planting and joined RI President Costa in the world-wide tree planting program and directed the National Park Service to take the lead in a Federal tree planting program including the park in the District of Columbia.

Peter was Chairman of the Program Committee in my Presidency and became deeply interested in the Park Service tree planting plan here. The DC Government also became involved.

There was a White House ceremony on April 26, 1991, where President Bush launched the Federal program with the planting of a tree on the White House lawn. Washington Rotary was invited to the ceremony and Peter and Mac Asbill, VP in my administration represented Washington Rotary. I was out of the country on a business trip and could not be there. But Peter saw a major opportunity where Washington Rotary could join with Rotary International and the Federal Government in an active and involved program with an environmental objective that could continue over the years, perhaps indefinitely.

He established an effective liaison with both the Park Service and the District, attending seemingly endless meetings and planning sessions, successfully arranging a partnership with the Park Service where Washington Rotary would become a continuing partner in planting and helping to sustain the Japanese cherry trees in the District which, of course, had become a beautiful landmark and tourist attraction in the National Capital City. To date, in concert with the Nat’l Park Service, we have planted 130 trees.

Peter was a visionary, having endless imagination, energy, and capabilities. I know of no other Washington Rotary program—not funded by a bequest—that has lasted over the years—soon to be twenty—and contributed, year-in-and year-out, to a very worthy cause and promises to go on into the future. It is a Washington Rotary achievement, a tribute to Peter, and now a part of the Washington Rotary brand.


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