Roy Balfour is a cheerful giver. He doesn’t say no. He gives time, money, support, encouragement, you name it, he says yes, and he learned the power of generosity and community –– are you ready? –– at Woodstock.

The three-day 1969 music festival in upstate N.Y., which was attended by 500,000 people, he says, “was a dramatic moment for me. Pivotal. It was the defining event of my life.
“Social concern, social consciousness, social awareness were at an all-time peak,” he says, adding he finally understood there the meaning of community. That weekend he recalls hundreds of young people scrambling together to set up an area for those who’d had drug overdoses and scores of medical students flocking across the grounds to staff it. Others, he says, had not brought along enough food, yet thousands tore open their supplies to share everything they had. “The linchpin for me was helping people you don’t even know. The social caring and social sharing was amazing, and I found it not only eye-opening but so fulfilling.” A sophomore at a Jesuit College in Buffalo that year, he had studied Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and was aware of “that education,” but “I didn’t experience it until Woodstock.”

He graduated with a degree in marketing and landed a job where he learned another powerful lesson. “If there’s a problem, it’s really an opportunity; just look at it from another perspective.” He went on to pursue a long career as a consumer products and financial expert, passionately helping colleagues to solve big problems. In 1987, he began and ran his own marketing business, but was traveling so much he realized he didn’t even know his next-door neighbor. When he finally knocked on the man’s door to meet him, the neighbor, a Rotarian, invited him to a meeting.

Balfour joined the Shrewsbury Club in 1987. As President in 1991, he launched the first Rotary Club in Kiev, highly fortuitous to already have contacts there when the district this year began offering support for victims in Ukraine. He also now serves as Rotary Foundation Chair for District 7910.

“I say yes at Rotary way too many times than I should, but it feels so good. Looking at someone’s face and helping them achieve what they want, I love that. Helping others achieve their goals has become so emotionally and humanely rewarding to me,” he says. Balfour offers new Rotarians these words: “Find something you’re passionate about and look to Rotary’s other clubs to help you make it happen.” It was one Rotarian in the Philippines, he adds, who thought, I
wonder if I can get some fellow Rotarians together to help eradicate polio. Now, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries that remain before polio is eradicated on the planet.

It is his wish, he says, that Rotarians all over the world become more engaged. “I wish they would not be isolated groups, but rather be more involved with things they care about locally, regionally, nationally, internationally.”

A longtime resident of Shrewsbury, he lives with his wife Nancy. They have a daughter Heather in Madrid, a daughter Kimberly in Shrewsbury, and three grandchildren, whom he aims to inspire, though he doesn’t push, he says. “I never force them but try to show by example that it can be an awful lot of fun to help other people.”