The old adage “time flies” certainly has held true for me this year. I am truly amazed that in just a couple of weeks we will all be meeting in St. Louis for some fun and fellowship, as well as to conduct business.
I wish to thank all of you for allowing me to serve as your Imperial Potentate this year. It has been a very worthwhile and loving endeavor. I chose those words carefully because “worthwhile” expresses so much more than just that simple word; it conveys the gratification I felt when, in my travels, I began to see some real positive changes that your Imperial Divan has been working toward for many years. For example, although we are still experiencing membership decline, the new members being brought in are younger and they seem to want to take an active role in our fraternity. These young men and their families are our future, and we depend on them to attract more of their peers into this great organization. “Worthwhile” also expresses “useful” and many of you have shown that the education seminars have been very helpful in your own temples and in your personal lives. So many of the divans are now acting as a “Board of Directors” and working as a team. It’s evident how much you have learned from the seminars and taken back to help your nobility enjoy themselves. “Meaningful” is another synonym for “worthwhile,” and when I traveled to the hospitals and saw “our children” and their parents enjoying our facilities and staff interactions, it simply reinforced how meaningful my participation on the buildings and equipment and research committees has been over these past 11 years. It has been my pleasure to have served on almost every committee touching our hospitals and the care we provide, and, as a physician, I must tell you that everyone at Shriners Hospitals for Children works very hard to provide the most up-to-date, comprehensive, and best care for those diseases and conditions we treat – this has been a meaningful experience. We should be very proud of all of our employees and thank them for their dedication and hard work; they make us look good to the public.
However, there is still much work to do. As many of you have heard in my Crystal Ball Speech, there has been marked change in the delivery of medical care just in my lifetime; the changes have grown exponentially since I have been practicing medicine. The exciting part of this is that I cannot wait to see what the future holds – we should all be living longer and healthier lives, and the children we serve will also benefit. There is a cost to these wonderful advances and we are trying to make changes so that our donations and endowment increases proportionately. Imperial Sir John Cinotto and our vice president of donor relations, Edgar McGonigal, are just beginning to scratch the surface on our new donor relations programs – there is wonderful potential there and we need to help them be successful. We all know that we cannot keep escalating the SHC budget without increasing the donations and growing our endowment fund, as well!
Your Joint Board recognized that we were “the best-kept secret in town” and so we have instituted a branding and marketing program that includes advertising. The goal for the national campaign is to generate awareness and raise funds. The regional pilot program in the New England area includes patient recruitment for our Boston and Springfield hospitals. The success of this program will be evaluated in the future, but I can tell you that no matter where I traveled, many of you were telling me that you were seeing those ads in your own locale. This too has been a very valuable change in our thinking in recent years.
Another critically important aspect of the branding and marketing campaign is the emphasis on making sure that the information we convey and the image we portray is correct and consistent. It is equally important that our messages accurately reflect our great organization, and our place in the world. Our fraternity – with temples in four countries and Shrine clubs across the globe – is truly an international organization. It’s time to more clearly communicate the global reach of the fraternity to the general public.
Consequently, I am pleased to announce that we will be transitioning to “Shriners International.” This will begin with our promotional materials, and we’ll keep you informed as the effort progresses And why did I use the word “loving”? The answer is simple – once you have just one of our special children put their arms around you, hug you and say “thank you” – there is no other word that fits! As Imperial Potentate, I had many of those experiences, so I thank you all.
But it wasn’t just the children that made serving as Imperial Potentate such a wonderful experience; it was all of you. As Helen and I traveled in the first half of this Shrine year, you were all so considerate and respectful. You made us feel special as we visited and talked with many of you….you actually made us feel a part of “the family.” You made us laugh, giggle and enjoy our time together. You gave us precious memories.
Then in January when Helen passed, the cards and the messages were truly a consolation to me. It showed how much you all loved her, how much you cared and that “We are Family.” As I began traveling again, you understood and you helped me through this difficult time. All of you have my sincerest thanks.
There is a time for everyone to say “goodbye,” and so, as your Imperial Potentate, I say to each and every one of you “Goodbye and thank you for allowing me to serve you and the kids.” Know that I have promised to continue working to ensure the success of our fraternity and our philanthropy!
Bernard J. Lemieux, M.D.
Imperial Potentate, Shriners International
Chairman, Board of Directors, Shriners Hospitals for Children