JARS v51n4 - Commentary

A Change of Name with the Future in Mind
John M. Hammond
Alternate Director at Large
Manchester, England

As an active ARS "off-shore" member, I read Bob George's letter in the Summer 1997 issue of the Journal with more than passing interest. It was inevitable that some members would feel uncomfortable with the proposed change of name of our Society, whilst others would be totally against such action. I would hope that there will be others who have a more forward looking approach.
It would have been easy for me to write an article expressing an opposite point of view to that of Bob's; but on this occasion I feel that some wiser counsel should prevail. It seems to me that it is perhaps far more important at this time to take a step backwards from the fray and ask one's self why this proposal has arisen in the first place.
In reality the Society came of age in its 50th year at the convention in Portland, the city of its birth. And in doing so it found itself somewhat at a crossroads when the question was asked, "What direction should the Society take for the future?" In a way it is decision time in regard to the Society pursuing a wider international status and this is probably the root of the problem.
There are times when it is necessary to stand up and express a point of view, as Bob and I have done in this instance. However, there the similarities end, for this matter will be decided on the North American mainland...an ocean away from the off-shore members.. .and in the circumstances this must be the best approach for all concerned. For this reason I am not going to make any pleas. It is important that the North American members make their own mind up and are comfortable with whatever is decided.
It is equally important that the off-shore members feel comfortable with their relationship with the ARS, together with any impact that the discussions and decision process may ultimately have for them. It is understandable that feelings of nationalistic pride may influence the outcome of the decision process in respect of the choice of name. In such circumstances there should be no surprise that the European chapters also have their own sense of identity which is reflected in the names of their chapters, i.e., Scottish Rhododendron Society, etc. In no way can the "mainland" chapters expect the off-shore chapters to make changes to nationalistic names if they themselves may not be prepared to take such a step!
In essence what this means is that with our own nationalistic society names we are all equal. But then without our nationalistic names we are still all equal with a title such as 'The Rhododendron Society." In practice such matters are not resolved without compromise on all sides, and in this particular case the word "compromise" can be interpreted as a form of bonding together, i.e., working towards a common interest. If the ARS has the will and the desire to become an international organisation then it will need to be able to come to terms with the management of change - but not change for the sake of change, rather the grasping of the initiative that its founders had when they perceived that there was a cause worth striving for and in doing so had the courage to set sail across uncharted waters with a clear objective in mind.
As to the "dedicated men" listed by Bob? Well, I too have been to Dr. J. Harold Clarke's nursery at Long Beach, I have visited Ted Van Veen's nursery at Portland, etc., and others will confirm that my visiting list to places of historical significance in the USA and Canada is extensive. Equally, I am aware that the converse is also true insofar as those North American rhodoholics seeking a historical perspective in Europe and other parts of the world continue to visit specific locations associated with "dedicated men" wherever they can be found. In reality we have shared each other's successes and failures in all aspects of rhododendrons, and in social terms we have shared a great deal more along the way, such that many special friendships exist which transcend any ocean that lies between us. Only a few days ago I was reminded of a visit by Del James to England in the early 1950s. Yes, many friendships made in this way do not fade with the passing years and the families concerned remember such occasions with affection together with a sense of belonging to a wider circle of kindred spirits. Sharing, enjoying and exchanging information, experiences and plant material are key attributes associated with our common interest in rhododendrons, and coupled with this is the embedded will and desire to bring these plants to the attention of a wider audience. Are not these some of the key ideals that the "dedicated men" were seeking to achieve on both sides of the Atlantic?
All these things have an impact on the decision process in regard to the future direction of our Society. Yes, a change of name can be an emotional issue, but unless those of us who are offshore members can feel that we have an equal status and a sense of belonging within the ARS, then I guess some will look elsewhere to achieve that end. At the end of the day nothing is likely to stop the rising membership levels in the off-shore chapters, nor will it halt an increasing awareness that there should be a more regular interchange between those chapters, particularly in Europe. Whatever is decided in regard to the name of our Society, the outcome will not stop discussions on matters of common interest among the present European chapters and other rhododendron groups in France, Belgium and Norway. It may, however, influence the future direction and aspirations of rhododendron groups on this side of the Atlantic.
Such matters as a change of Society name are bound to be subjective and cannot be resolved overnight. It would be wise to allow adequate time for discussion and debate on this issue before any decision is taken. I hope others like Bob will take the time to express their point of view on this matter as only in this way can the question "What direction should the Society take for the future?" be adequately answered.