Norm, one of the highlights of my American Red Cross career is the opportunity to work with you. Your wise counsel, encouragement-and support mean the world to me. Thank you for your outstanding Board leadership and unfailing commitment to the Red Cross, and my personal, heartfelt thanks for your friendship.
I spent a lot of time over the holidays thinking about the future. And I have a great feeling about this year. Some people say our country is in a crisis. But I believe that America is equal to today's challenges. I know 1999 will be a good year - for the American Red Cross and for the American people - because I know the strength and goodness of those of you in this room and around the country. You stand ready to do whatever it takes - at whatever cost or sacrifice - to bring help and hope to those in need. Red Crossers are unusually committed and remarkably strong, but we are not apart from America. We are America. Our assistance is not delivered by strangers, but by neighbors.
Our pin is worn by the merchant on Main Street, the retired teacher two doors down, and by your best friend who teaches swimming at the pool. We are the neighbors you turn to when the water's rising, and the volunteers who open the countless shelters that offer safety from the storm. We are proud professionals, volunteers, and donors united by a common goal: to touch people's lives with compassion when nature and chance have conspired against them. So I'd like to start out the new year by asking you to join me in giving all of you a well-deserved pat on the back, and a big round of applause, shall we?
What a joy it is to begin this exciting new year with so much of our Red Cross family gathered together, either here in this historic Board of Governors Hall, or by way of satellite hook-up. To those of you just getting back from winter holidays: welcome home. To those of you who worked straight through, a heart-felt "thank you" for your sacrifices.
This beautiful building -- completed in 1917, in the midst of the First World War, and dedicated to the heroic women of the Civil War -- inspires all of us with its reminders of those who came before. This room has been used by generations of Red Crossers who met and conquered the challenges of their times, passing stewardship to us with careful and loving hands.
We each have memories of special occasions here, and I, of course, have mine.
The first time I stood with you in this room was my first day at the Red Cross, just under 8 years ago, in February 1991. I see some faces that were here that day. Do you remember? Those were challenging times.
The integrity of our Biomedical Services - the very safety of our nation's blood was being questioned by the federal authorities and in the media. Our Disaster Relief Fund was staring at a potential $30 million dollar deficit, and our services to the armed forces had become a growing financial burden with an internal report recommending dismantling. The head of the United Way was soon to be removed from office, and the entire non-profit sector was braced for unprecedented public scrutiny. If that wasn't enough, we depended on the United Way for most of our outside contributions, and the United Way was dramatically reducing its support. This was no sleepy charity. It was America's largest and most-loved philanthropy, but it was struggling mightily to preserve its tradition of trust.
I told a story at our first meeting about a night in 1945, when General Dwight Eisenhower was walking along the Rhine, thinking of the crossing in which he would lead the allied armies. He met a soldier and asked him why he wasn't sleeping. The young GI, who didn't recognize the Supreme Commander, said, "I guess I'm just a little nervous."
"So am I," said Eisenhower. "Let's walk together and perhaps we'll draw strength from one another."
My friends, that's just what we did.
We've spent most of this decade together, you and I. And together we have remade our world. In years to come, when our successors meet in this room, they will view the story of these years not as conclusion but as prologue, as a time when we set the stage for a triumphant Red Cross in the 21st Century, when we will be the non-profit pacesetter, setting a new credo of business for businesses of the heart.
For we have not been resistant to change, we have welcomed it. With real perseverance and courage, we have rebuilt antiquated programs and services, reinvigorating them for the demands of today. We have transformed our blood operations, which provide nearly half of the nation's blood supply, into a sparkling, state-of-the-art national system that stands today as the envy of the world. We modernized and revitalized Disaster Relief and completely revamped our fundraising capacity, which enabled us to handle well the worst and most expensive disaster year in our history - with 14 simultaneous major disasters. Last year, the Red Cross raised $181 million dollars more than we raised in 1991, despite a significant reduction in United Way funding over those years.
And, with hard work and fresh thinking, we rescued our services to the Armed Forces, using the latest technology to find more efficient ways to deliver them and saving millions of dollars in the process. For the first time in our history, we rechartered all our chapters based on the highest standards and we employed new technology to update and consolidate our financial management. We have never been in better financial health than we are now, with 1998 being the best year ever.
As we have made changes in the way we do business, we have not forgotten that our people are the heart and soul of this great organization. We have created training opportunities including the annual 3-week Harvard program to build the leadership we need to take this $2.2 billion organization into the next century.
As we stand here today, in the last year of a decade swirling with change - we are an organization blessed with renewed vigor and strength, thanks to the vision and the commitment of the entire Red Cross family. We can be proud of our venerable past, sure of a noble future, and certain of a grateful public.
The years I've spent at the Red Cross - with you - have been the most fulfilling of my career, and I thank you.
I love the American Red Cross. But the Red Cross is now solid as a rock, and, at this important time in our national life, I believe there may be another way for me to serve our country. The Red Cross has been a glorious mission field, but I believe there may be other duties yet to fulfill.
When I stood here on my first day 8 years ago, I knew I would need to earn my place in the Red Cross family. I knew that one had to be worthy, that the honor could not be conveyed by edict, or as the result of a search committee's work - no matter how carefully conducted. So I pledged to earn the badge of a Red Crosser, the gold pin on my lapel, by working my first year as a volunteer. And I'm glad I did, because it helped cement the bond between us.
I have learned so much since then. I've stood by your side in Florida, as we braced for Hurricane Andrew, hurdling across the Caribbean.
I've cradled a gaunt, Rwandan baby in my arms, and I've sat with our men and women in uniform, far from home and loved ones, as they keep the peace in Bosnia. I've stood in the Somalian darkness while Red Crossers operated by flashlight on a victim of that nation's bloodshed. I've seen, with you, the faces of America's inner city youth, at risk but not yet lost, and I've struggled with you to bring life-saving information across our nation's cultural, educational, and racial ramparts.
Because of these experiences and so many more, I know now that the badges we wear are never "paid in full." They must be earned again with every day -- often amid danger and disease, with new efforts, longer hours and more sacrifice. I've learned that all of us are improved each day we come to work by the continuing, exhausting effort to fulfill the Red Cross mission. I was proud, 8 years ago, to be chosen to lead you as your President. Today, I am humbled with gratitude for the opportunity to have walked among you.
So I will be leaving you. I've not made definite plans about what I will do next. I didn't feel it was right to spend the time I owed to you thinking about anything but our work together. Soon, I will begin considering new paths, and there are exciting possibilities. I will choose one and pursue it with all my might. But never will I forget the friendships we have forged here, or the indestructible, heroic heart of the American Red Cross, a family of which I will forever consider myself a part.
Thank you for your support and your love. Thank you, one and all. God bless you, and God bless the American Red Cross.