Virginia Nordby

The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor’s Distinguished Service Award recipient today is Past Rotary District 6380 Governor Virginia B. Nordby. She is the pride and joy of Rotarians in D6380 for her many pioneering roles in Rotary, leadership in ground-breaking initiatives, and major contributions to improving the lives of all stakeholders and beneficiaries here in the community and all over the world.

Although born in Chicago, she moved to Southern California with her parents at a very young age. Her mother taught at a one room school house before joining her husband to start the family’s small business. After high school in Southern California, Virginia entered Stanford University and received a Bachelor’s Degree in English. Right from the beginning, Virginia wanted to be a lawyer with a strong belief that she could make a difference in the lives of people. The Stanford English Department faculty offered Virginia a graduate fellowship. At that time Virginia was thinking about joining the State of California Civil Service. Little did she know that women were not even allowed to take the entrance examination, let alone work for the State of California! She took the LSAT and was offered admission at Stanford University Law School in 1951. Her class of 140 had only 3 female students. When in the Law School, she found two law students, two years her senior, who served as mentors. They were Sandra Day, who later became the first female Supreme Court Justice, and Shirley Hofstetter, who became the first Secretary of Education when the Department was formed in 1976 by President Jimmy Carter.

Virginia met the love of her life, Gordon Nordby while he was doing his PhD at Stanford, and they married in 1953. After Gordon finished his PhD in Chemistry, they moved to the Boston area, where Gordon taught at Harvard. Despite having a law degree from Stanford, Virginia was not given a job at Harvard because she was a woman.

In 1962, Virginia and Gordon moved to Ann Arbor where Gordon joined the faculty at the University of Michigan. They never left, raising 4 children (two boys and 2 girls), and celebrating 61 years of marriage at the time of Gordon’s death in 2015. They supported each other’s professional growth and as they garnered acclaim in their respective fields. Gordon was a member of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor North for many years.

Virginia became a UM Law School faculty member and then a senior University administrator for many years, retiring as Vice-President of Student Affairs. She very diligently oversaw the implementation of Title IX.

Virginia joined Rotary Club of Ann Arbor North in 1988 (the first year that Rotary opened its membership to women), and was the Rotary International’s first woman to serve as a District Governor (1995-96) for the over 50 Rotary clubs in Michigan and Ontario, Canada, D6380.

Soon after her District Governorship, Virginia was invited by the Rotary International President to serve as the Vice-Chairperson of Rotary International Foundation’s Peace Scholars Committee, which was organized to honor the 75th anniversary of the Rotary Foundation. During her seven years in this position, Virginia led the drafting of the concept of Peace Scholarships offered to outstanding graduate students and conducted site visits and negotiations to select seven Peace Universities around the world. Early in this process, Virginia was of the opinion that Rotary should have its own University for Peace and Conflict Resolution, however that plan was abandoned in favor of the current structure which funds Rotary Peace Scholars and courses in peace and conflict-resolution at the seven universities. Many Peace Scholar alums are now in leadership positions at institutions around the world.

Virginia was the first female Rotarian to serve on Rotary International’s Council on Legislation which convened in New Delhi, India in 1999. She also served on the Rotary International Finance Committee and chaired the RI President’s Committee on Women in Rotary. She is the recipient of many awards and honors from not only Rotary but many other organizations. She has volunteered her time and knowledge with great humility to a number of organizations. She was involved with the Girl Scouts for several decades, holding important positions in the organization. She is an inductee in the Michigan Women’s Historical Center Hall of Fame in recognition of her leadership role in affirmative action and as an architect of the rape-reform legislation known as the Criminal Sexual Conduct Act (1974) in the State of Michigan.

Our District 6380 established the Women in Rotary Award in 2013 to honor PDG Virginia Nordby.

Virginia, your pioneering effort in everything you have done is commendable. You have been, and still are, a mentor to many young women and men around the world. Of course, you are the pride and joy of Rotarians of D6380. But you are well known around the Rotary World. I want to share a personal story. Two years back, I was at a Rotary Peace Conference in California sitting next to a nice lady. When I introduced myself and told her I was from Ann Arbor, Michigan, she asked me if I knew Virginia. She proceeded to tell me she was from Texas and in the first group of Women District Governors with Virginia Nordby. She followed up with “make no mistake, Virginia was one in a million and the leader of the pack of eight women District Governors. She did so much for Rotary International.” Such is Virginia’s reputation.

Your name will always be associated with the formation of Rotary Peace Scholarship Programs. Since the inception of this Program, over 1000 Peace Scholars have participated in, and hold prominent positions at, the United Nations and its affiliated organizations, in national governments of many countries, and in peace building organizations and NGOs. They are doctors, engineers, lawyers, law enforcement and business people who joined the Peace Fellowship Program and have become potential peace builders.

So on behalf of the members of our Rotary Club, it is my privilege to present our club’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Award, to a very accomplished professional who has worked tirelessly on Title IX, Peace and many significant issues that have helped women and all of humankind. (Remarks by Ashish Sarkar, June 7, 2017)