When Mark Maloney moved to Decatur as a young tax attorney new to town, he joined the Rotary Club of Decatur as a networking opportunity.
His father-in-law, the late Gilmer Blackburn, the founding attorney in the law firm that Maloney joined, was a member of the Kiwanis Club, so Maloney figured his Rotary membership would give the firm a presence in two of the city’s civic organizations.
On July 1, nearly 40 years later, Maloney will become president of Rotary International, with its network of 1.2 million members and more than 35,000 clubs worldwide. A member of Blackburn, Maloney and Schuppert LLC, Maloney is the 109th Rotary International president and the fourth from Alabama, dating back to the early 1950s.
“It’s a tremendous honor, and it’s an exciting opportunity,” said Maloney, 64, who was in Decatur last week between international trips on Rotary business.
“Gay and I get to travel the world,” he said. “I’m having a blast.”
The Maloneys had returned home after traveling to the Ukraine for the 90th anniversary celebration of Rotary there, then to Hamburg, Germany, for the Rotary International Convention where he spoke at a president-elect’s luncheon, and finally to Florence, Italy — for all of 19 hours — for a celebration marking the 40th anniversary of a “sister clubs” relationship among the Florence, Paris, Brussels and Wiesbaden Rotary clubs.
His travel schedule ramps up from September through December when he’ll attend nine Rotary leadership institutes, all outside the U.S.
“I’ll be home every month, but not much,” Maloney said.
Just a few of the countries he’ll visit in the year ahead: the Philippines, Japan, Panama, Argentina, Poland, Italy, New Zealand, Brazil, Korea, the U.K., France, Chile, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Australia.
Maloney said the current Rotary International president traveled 325 days out of the year, visiting 67 countries.
“I will not achieve that,” he said. “Gay (also a member of Blackburn, Maloney and Schuppert) and I are still practicing law.”
Maloney, who grew up on a farm in southern Illinois, traces his community involvement back to his elementary school days when he was Gallatin County’s 4-H president. He was active in the Beta Club, student council and other organizations while in high school, and was his class valedictorian. At Harvard College, he was the manager for the football, lacrosse and soccer teams and at Vanderbilt University School of Law, where he met Gay, he was the secretary of Harvard’s national alumni association in Nashville as a brand-new alum.
“I like to get organized,” he said.
The Maloneys graduated from law school in May 1979, married the next month and after Mark received an advanced degree in taxation from New York University, the couple moved to Decatur, where Gay had grown up.
Maloney was also motivated to give back to his community by Blackburn, a one-time mayor of Decatur.
“He was a great believer in paying your civic rent,” Maloney said. “That was something he instilled in Gay and me and the other lawyers who have passed through this firm.”
Maloney was the Rotary Club’s president by age 30, a district governor, a Rotary International director and presidential aide and Rotary Foundation trustee. He was also involved with the Knights of Columbus, the United Way of Morgan County and the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, among other organizations.
“The services we provide (through Rotary) is a key motivating factor for me, but the fellowship we have is the icing on the cake,” Maloney said.
Last fall, the Maloneys took part in a water filtration distribution project in the U.S. Virgin Islands, an initiative in which the Rotary Club of Decatur and Rotary Club of Decatur Daybreak, of which Gay is a member, partnered with the Rotary Club of St. Thomas East. And there are projects closer to home, like the pancake breakfast and shopping trip in December for more than 70 children organized by Rotarians and the Church at Stone River.
Maloney is especially proud of Rotary’s involvement in efforts to eradicate polio.
“That’s our signature project,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been known for around the world for the last 30 years.”
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments with five partners — Rotary, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Last year, there were fewer than 40 cases worldwide, according to Maloney, with only Afghanistan and Pakistan reporting cases of wild poliovirus.
“One of the greatest assets we bring to the effort is advocating with governments to financially support eradication efforts,” he said.
Bill Wyker, who’s known Maloney since the early 1980s, said his friend has “a steel-trap mind” and a “compassionate heart.”
Serving with Maloney on the Rotary Club board, it was clear “he had a natural leadership ability,” Wyker said. “The club recognized his talent early on.”
When Maloney became club president in 1985, the year before Wyker was president, “it was a precursor of what was to follow.”
One of Maloney’s most impressive roles with the organization, Wyker said, was as the chair of a committee organizing the 2014 Rotary International Convention in Sydney, Australia.
“Here he is on Second Avenue in Decatur, orchestrating a convention halfway around the world,” Wyker said. “I can’t imagine anyone besides Mark being able to do that.”
Ellen Didier met Maloney through Rotary in 2006 and, when she became president 10 years later, “I really relied on Mark to give me advice and guidance. He became a good friend,” she said.
“He’s absolutely passionate about everything Rotary,” Didier said. “He really does believe in the organization.”
It’s a treat for Didier when Maloney brings guests from around the world to the club’s weekly meetings, giving her a glimpse into their cultures.
“It’s not just a lunch on Monday,” she said. “I’ve met some of the most amazing people through Mark.”
During his Rotary International presidency, Maloney has a few focuses for growing and diversifying the organization.
“I want Rotary to be more family friendly,” welcoming children to activities and being considerate of families in scheduling, Maloney said. “We want to make sure leadership is accessible to a younger demographic,” and that the organization doesn’t require leadership to be a full-time job, he said.
The Rotary International Board has set a goal to increase the number of women in Rotary and in Rotary leadership positions to 30 percent by June 2023.
“The sooner we attain those targets, the better,” Maloney told Rotarians in his Hamburg speech.