Honoring a Legacy of Service
The 1996-97 Rotary International Year has been officially dedicated by Rotary International to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death (January 27, 1997) of Rotary’s founder, Paul P. Harris. The following article is excerpted from the official Rotary biography of Paul P. Harris as printed in the Rotary Publication for public distribution, “Honoring a Legacy of Service”. It is reprinted here by permission.
Paul P. Harris, a lawyer, was the founder of Rotary, the world’s first and most international service club.
Born in Racine Wisconsin, USA on 19 April 1968, Paul was the second of six children to George N. Harris and Cornelia Bryan Harris. At age 3 he moved to Wallingford, Vermont where he grew up in the care of his paternal grandparents. Married to Jean Thompson Harris (1881 – 1963), they had no children. He received an L.L.B. from the University of Iowa and received an honorary L.L.D. from the University of Vermont.
Paul Harris worked as a newspaper reporter, a business teacher, stock company actor, cowboy, and traveled extensively in the U.S.A. and Europe selling marble and granite. In 1896, he went to Chicago to practice law. One evening Paul visited the suburban home of a professional friend. After dinner, as they strolled through the neighborhood, Paul’s friend introduced him to various tradesmen in their stores. It was here Paul conceived the idea of a club that could recapture some of the friendly spirit among businessmen in small communities.
On 23 February, 1905, Paul Harris formed the first club with three other businessmen: Silvester Schiele, a coal merchant; Gustavus Loehr, a mining engineer; and Hiram Shorey, a merchant tailor. Paul Harris named the new club “Rotary” because members met in rotation at their various places of business. Club membership grew rapidly. Soon Paul became convinced that the Rotary club could be developed into an important service movement and strove to extend Rotary to other cities.
Paul was also prominent in other civic and professional work. He served as the first chairman of the board of the national Easter Seal Society of Crippled Children and Adults in the U.S.A. and of the International Society for Crippled Children. He was a member of the board of managers of the Chicago Bar Association and its representative at the International Congress of Law at the Hague, and a committee member of the American Bar Association. He received the Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America for distinguished service to youth, and was decorated by the governments of Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France and Peru.
Paul maintained his law office for most of his life. He spent much time traveling and was invited to speak to Rotarians at annual conventions, district and regional meetings, and other functions. When President emeritus Paul Harris passed away on 27 January, 1947, his dream had grown from an informal meeting of four men to some 6,000 clubs. In the past five decades, the organization has grown to more than 27,500 clubs with 1.2 million members brought together through Paul Harris’ vision of service and fellowship.