After 30 years we can say that these words have been – and still are – very true. The ball has started rolling, and is still rolling on after all these years!
Before these words were spoken in the Grand Ballroom of the Zürich Hotel, a lot had happened.
It wasn’t even sure the conference would be held in the first place. It was a big risk at that time: ECHA just started a year before as a new organization. The organizing committee had to book an expensive hotel and pay in advance for a lot people, including meals - not knowing whether anyone would want to come and pay for this unknown conference. In fact, Joan Freeman and Pieter Span would pay the hotel on their own expenses without even telling their family!
The fundraising didn’t go as well as hoped and ECHA’s Executive Committee asked in a meeting about the possibility to cancel. Due to all kinds of obligations the EC decided to continue.
And so the conference ‘High Ability – a European Perspective’ took place from 10-13 November 1988 in Hotel Zurich.
Fortunately the conference did work out, enough people showed up and the conference was a success!
In fact, 225 participants from 25 different countries were registered: for example from DDR, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the USSR; but foreign countries like China, Australia, Liechtenstein and Canada were also represented. Remarkable in a time, where the Iron Curtain was still dividing Western and Eastern Europe, and there was no internet and quick communication!
The Opening Address was not sure to be held either: Joan Freeman was waiting in her room, thinking it all would start at 18:30 p.m. All of a sudden Ulrike Stedtnitz, who chaired the conference, knocked on her door that everyone was waiting for her!
“The first conference was chaired by Ulrike Stedtnitz (see ECHA News, special issue 2012) and having an opening night at 18.00 p.m. The grand ballroom of the hotel Zurich was overcrowded. Participants were waiting. No Joan. I asked Ulrike: go and find out. After five minutes Ulrike returned: Joan had the time wrong. But then Joan appeared: strided to the front and gave a magnificent speech, by which ECHA was really founded. Main characteristic of the conference since that moment was: everyone felt at home.“
(Pieter Span, Source)
The conference was opened by Sebastian Coe, the British five times Olympic gold medal runner. He not only came, but even paid his own fare.
Another invited speaker, prof. Matuschkin, did not speak any English. Therefore ECHA had to pay for his fare, flight and stay and the translator’s; quite a cost, since there only was one plane a week, flying from Moscow to Zurich in those days.