The first sentence in James MacKay’s book The Burns Federation 1885 to 1985 reads: “a chance remark in a London park a hundred years ago led to the formation of a body which today ranks as the oldest national literary association in Scotland.” Little did I think when I regularly took my lunch in that same park near Embankment Station in the early nineties that I would become the President of that association, now known as the Robert Burns World Federation. However, last weekend during a marvellous annual conference in Edinburgh to mark the 250th anniversary of the poet’s birth, I had the honour of doing just that. And what a singular honour it was to don the chain of office bearing the names of so many distinguished predecessors who have kept alive and promoted the spirit of Burns which clubs and individuals, throughout the world, hold so dear.
I am delighted to be taking over at such an exciting period in the Federation’s history. There has been a huge stimulation of interest in the life and works of Burns generated by the Scottish Government’s Year of Homecoming, to which my immediate predecessor, Bill Dawson, has given his full and enthusiastic commitment. We must capitalise on the platform which the Homecoming has given us and use it as a springboard to launch new initiatives and also to build on events which have already proved successful. In particular, we need to find new ways of communicating with a younger audience so that they become enthused about Robert Burns beyond their initial contact through the Schools Competition. I have been delighted to note the drive towards closer ties between academics and what I would call ‘ordinary Burnsians’ for want of a better description. Each can aid the other in the study of the Burns story and so enrich our understanding of the multi-facetted poet who continues to fascinate us all. Finally, we need to work hard to remain relevant as a ‘worldwide’ Federation by strengthening our existing overseas links and forging new partnerships to broaden our appeal.
Thanks largely to the outstanding work done by the Chief Executive, Shirley Bell, over the last twelve years, the Federation is now on a sound financial footing and is recognised as the pre-eminent focal point of contact for all matters relating to the life and works of our national Bard. As she leaves on well-deserved retirement I look forward immensely to working with her replacement, Sam Judge, as he continues to build on that legacy. I am blessed with a very committed and capable board of directors, ably supported by Margaret Craig, now entering her twenty first year of administration work for the Federation. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of members and offer a sincere thank you for all the messages of good wishes and congratulations. I will do all in my power to promote the works of the Federation and look forward to seeing as many of you as possible during the year. If I can help you in any way in my capacity as President please let me know. I wish you all the very best in your endeavors in celebrating and promoting the life and works of Robert Burns.