The Rotary in Virginia Major


The Opobo-born female pharmacist who can’t stop giving, right from birth

* Now to give more as Rotary governor with over 89 clubs Rotary clubs under her

* Decries plastic waste menace; says women should not die by mere bleeding at child birth

* Opportunities are masked with challenges, peel it off and find the honeycomb


(Culled from BusinessDay Weekender By Ignatius Chukwu)

Virginia Major (nee Brown) was brought up in a home where caring for others was a passion and a practice. It was the home of an Anglican bishop (the late venerable Obadaiah Batubo Cookey Brown) and his wife Virginia Nene Cookey Brown, all of blessed memory. Her mother’s kitchen was known as the global kitchen. Everybody fed in it.

Gini as she was popularly called once shocked her neighbourhood later in life as a practicing pharmacist when she set up set up a box in the office where rich folks were encouraged to drop their spare coins and change. This collection was used to offset the cost of drugs for indigent families who could not pay for drugs.

Many who knew her believed she was a Rotarian, but she was not. Major was doing her best evading ‘arrest’ into the Rotary army. A female friend was working on her to join the giving club but she refused, believing that Rotary was for the rich, and that she wasn’t one. One day, she disclosed, she followed the female friend to Rotary just to put her off her back. There, she fell in love with what she saw and joined Rotary. Today, she is the Governor of Rotary International District 9141 which has 89 clubs under her charge.

From that moment on, Virgina went into Rotary as Rotary had been in Virginia. In an exclusive interview after her virtual investituture, Major, mother of three with grand children, and now a John Maxwell certified leadership and business coach who is still in health counseling, she explained her journey in the life of giving and how both Rotary and Virginai met each other.

Major sees her beginning as a humble one; the daughter of a reverend gentleman full of love for his family who insisted on good education for his children. She said her father raised a good family with sound education, being of the Anglican Communion of old. They had mission schools and they were the best then.

She opened up: “Selflessness was the order, and most teachers were white. To this day, I keep wondering why these people came to this interior area in Africa leaving behind luxury and modern life? I knew they had a choice, which means selflessness was the answer.” This was her early encounter with selflessness.

So, as a child, she was exposed to many missionaries from all over the world. Her mother’s kitchen was a global kitchen. It was a kind of initiation to generosity. “This was my first exposure to this kind of life”, she said.

The vibrant lady is a born Art person but trust fathers who know better. This daughter must be a medical doctor. She obeyed and ended up a pharmacist. But later in life, the art in her seemed to sprout out and underline her life. “I wanted to be many things in life; Art is my life, but all father wanted was for me to be a medical doctor or teacher. A teacher those days was everything.”

Medical practice or pharmacy however did one magic. She saw it not as a means of making just a living but the avenue to find humanity. “I saw everything about medicine and pharmacy as helping people. I noticed in the practice of pharmacy that the rich paid up for drugs and services while the poor had problem paying their bills to get good drugs. This caused me pains. I devised means and set up a coins box to collect money and change from the rich to give drugs to the very poor. I came face to face with widows who lost their children due to lack of money to pay for good drugs. It was a box for community outreach; ‘Drop your coins here for the poor to drink medicine.”

Her pharmacy was for those who cannot pay.  “After the death of the child whose mother could not pay for drugs, I set up the fund; ‘Medication for free for very indigent people’. That’s how it started.”

She revealed why she later shut her pharmacy practice. She said robbery became rife and threats of kidnap became huge. “Many thought the glamour was wealth.

Rotary all the way

Major has often found herself wondering whether she was made for Rotary or Rotary was made for her. Now, she asks herself; what she was doing earlier in life, was it Rotary? May be, or may be not.

She said: “Rotary comes to me naturally. When I eventually tasted it, I saw genuine friendship and high level generosity to people you do not know. The contributions in Rotary go far to touch people everywhere in the world. So, Virginia met Rotary. I began to enjoy it. Everybody has a need, including the rich. So, when the rich beg, I know something is too bad. We all have needs in our different corners.

“So, giving school bags, books, etc, can make a difference. People are held up in hospitals because they cannot pay. Rotary provides equipment for clinics. We give water to dry villages. There are young girls that cannot go to school because of difficulties. You come face to face with schools on wet floors. You see plenty of tearful difficulties facing people.

“Rotary has shown me that if your neighbour is miserable, you have no business being happy.”


This virus has exposed the need of humanity more, she said. “So, people should reach out to everybody. This holds out a lesson to all. Do not glow in your little bubble. The way to go is: Give to others, else, the poor will push the gates down.”

The object of Rotary is in education. She said; “I accomplished my objects; education. Training your kids is not all, what about others?”

Virginia in Action

She recounts the six pillars of Rotary which have added a new one, which is environmental protection. “Maternal and childcare is very dear to me, and it has got the required support in my tenure. We as such questions as; Why is bleeding still an issue in this century? I have requested all clubs under my jurisdiction (89 of them) to do maternal & child projects and programmes. We will be providing incubators, beds, kits, etc.”

Passion for young people

Major is known all over the Niger Delta for her inclination to anything youth. “Engaging young leaders is part of it. I think lack of mentorship is cause of their deviance. I ask, what can we do? They have talents but there is no skill. So, we help out by mentoring them.

“Rotary Youth Leadership: We care about this. We want those kids to start young in issues of leadership.”


Environment: The plastics menace

There is much we can do in the area of the environment in the Niger Delta, especially counting our carbon footprints. We seem not to care. There is plastics menace advocacy. Its new in Rotary but we must convince our people to depend less on plastics.”


Conclusion: Youths are saying something the parents are not hearing

Parents should keep an eye to what the youths are doing. They are saying a lot that parents are not hearing. Mentors are needed but be careful, especially to girls.

“To the kids, do what you think is right. Do not do it to please your parents. Be the best in your area and it will convince your parents. If you are wayward and you want to study Art, they will blame Art for it. This is a world of hitech, so comply and adopt. There is service in life. Call me if you have the urge to serve. Be the best you can. There are also opportunities.

To those who still habour fears about joining Rotary, she said: “Rotary opens up opportunities; that’s the theme for 2020 – 2021. We did not see Covid-19 before it was chosen. Rotary is needed around the world now; to feed people, to help with medicals, supporting micro-credit to revive businesses, etc.

“The richest people are made during adversity. See zoom boom now. We too can take it up now. Go there and excel. Zoom brings big people to speak during your events. Our networks are stronger and bigger. Possibilities are more. Diversify and get to e-contacts.

Opportunities are masked with adversities. Peel off that mask.”