Martin Brands, the founding president of the Rotary Club of the Eastern Seaboard and a man respected across the kingdom and world, died Oct. 30 of cancer. He was 76.
A small, private cremation ceremony was held Nov. 5, but friends and loved ones from across the region turned out at St. Nikolaus Church for a memorial service organized by close friend and fellow Rotarian Jan Abbink where his legacy of generosity and public service was regaled.
A German friend, Dieter Reigber, told of their shared love of classical music – selected pieces of which were played between speeches at the Roman Catholic ceremony – philosophy, politics and more.
“Martin was already marked by cancer last August when we went to the Arena di Verona in Italy and watched, besides other operas, Verdi’s ‘Nabucco’, which Martin greatly appreciated,” Reigber said of their 2011 opera-focused trip to Italy.
Compatriot Aad Scholtes, a member of the Rotary Club of Pijnacker Nootdorp, couldn’t hold back his tears. He told how Brands contacted his club for help in financial matters and also made the famous magician do tricks for the children.
He helped with many people with the Operation Smile project, which provided free operations for face disfigurements or eye conditions. Most of the doctors performing those operations worked without payment. Brands also was one of the first to help after the 2004 tsunami and was deeply involved in the projects of the Vaan Goosens Foundation, which aids children of migrant workers and refugees in Thailand.
Only his last project to help children of migrant workers in Pattaya was left unfinished. “But we will do it for him,” Scholtes said.
Renee de Vaan read a letter from Brand’s family in the Netherlands who he saw only one month ago.
“Dear brother and uncle, we will miss you dearly and we are proud of you. You have made this world a little bit more beautiful. Your hospitality was heartwarming. Your motivation to bring something to a good end was admirable. We love you and you will be forever in our hearts. Nel, Henk, Riet, Ellen, Carine, Manon and Gabrielle.”
The director of the Human Help Network Foundation Thailand, Radchada Chomjinda, said the influence one person has in the world can be seen on the faces and in the eyes of his family and friends and all of those who were helped.
“Martin Brands was one of those who touched people’s hearts. His legacy is anchored in all of us and the children he helped. Martin was our eldest and most allegiant friend and supporter of the children of the Child Protection & Development Center and the ASEAN Learning Center. I am happy I was his friend. Without his help, we couldn’t have achieved so many things.”
For those who knew him best, Brands was both a private person and one ready to help others, no matter the how much time or energy he had to invest. He never asked for thanks or wanted the limelight; only to help quietly.
As the founding president of the RCES, Brands had entrance to all the important Rotary offices worldwide. He knew the rules, on which door to knock, which hospital to contact, and which doctors and other clubs to contact to help the poorest of the poor. For that, shortly before his death, Brands was awarded the two highest medals in Rotary, the Services above Self and Major Donor Award.
While receiving those awards, he presented Paul Harris Fellowship pins to other Rotarians for their good deeds and – knowing the end was near – bid his farewell to friends and colleagues.
“Martin had the nickname ‘Grant Guru’ because of all the matching grants he arranged with Rotary International,” Abbink recalled, closing the memorial. “But not only that, he himself gave lots of money to poor children; I’m guessing more than US$100.000.
“Martin was a true perfectionist and never held back with criticism. May times we had heated discussions, but Martin always said, at the end, ‘we’re still friends, right?’
He was cosmopolitan, a man of the world who had countless friends around the globe. He had high targets and he never rested until he could reach them. But he expected the same from his friends and colleagues. Martin we will miss you dearly.”