Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Look at Paul Harris, Founder of Rotary

(Paul Percy Harris, 1896, age 28)

    "Faith, hope, charity and clean business, these four and the greatest of these is clean business. Charity sometimes destroys initiative and demoralizes character; clean business never does. If business is clean, there will be much less need of charity because clean business means not only a fair deal to the buyer, but also a living wage to the employee. Rotary will continue to be charitable but it can do more than that; let it remove the cause of that which makes charity necessary.”  

-Paul P. Harris in his message to the 1916 Convention in Cincinnati. 

Before we embark on our journey, it is important to take a step back and get to know a bit about how Rotary came into being.
Here, then, is a look at Paul Percy Harris. taken from several official Rotary sources.

He was born in Racine, WI, on April 19, 1868, the second of six children of George N. and Cornelia Bryan Harris. At age 3 he moved to Wallingford, VT, where he grew up in the care of his paternal grandparents. He married Jean Thompson Harris. They had no children. He earned an L.L.B. from the University of Iowa and received an honorary L.L.D. from the University of Vermont.
Harris worked in a series of short-term jobs, and traveled extensively in the U.S. and Europe, selling marble and granite. In 1896, he moved to Chicago to practice law. One evening, he 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 there Paul conceived the idea of a club that could recapture some of the friendly spirit among businessmen in small communities.

On February 23, 1905, 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. Harris named the new club “Rotary” because members met in rotation at their various places of business. Club membership grew rapidly. Soon, Harris became convinced that the Rotary club could be developed into an important service movement and strove to extend Rotary to other cities.

Harris also was 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 was 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.

Harris 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. By the time he died on January 27, 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’s vision of service and fellowship.

-Interesting facts about the founder of Rotary:
  • Paul was expelled from Black River Academy, a school that had been attended by Calvin Coolidge. He enrolled at Vermont Academy, from which he graduated.
  • In 1885, he entered the University of Vermont, only to be expelled. He went on to enroll at Princeton. 
  • In 1890, Paul entered the law department at the University of Iowa. When word came that his beloved grandmother had died, he did not have enough time to return to Vermont for her funeral. His ties to family were virtually cut. 
  • Armed with his law degree in 1891, Paul set off for a series of jobs to gain some experience in the world. Among them: reporter, actor, cowboy, seaman, granite salesman, fruit picker and hotel clerk.
  • Paul Harris wasn’t the first president of a Rotary club.  That distinction is actually held by Harris’s friend Silvester Schiele, who served as the first president of the Rotary Club of Chicago. Harris deferred his club leadership duties until February 1907, when he was elected the third president of the Chicago club. 
  • While Harris served as president of the Chicago Rotary Club in 1907, the club initiated its first public service project, the construction of public toilets in Chicago. This step transformed Rotary into the world's first Service Club

-Notable Quotes:
"In the clashes between ignorance and intelligence, ignorance is generally the aggressor."

"Ideas have unhinged the gates of empires."

"In the cold, shivering twilight, preceding the daybreak of civilization, the dominating emotion of man was fear."

"Perhaps dreaming is not so bad if one dreams good dreams and makes them come true."  

"We are in no further need of politicians; we need some statesmen now. We can dispense with Democrats and we can dispense with Republicans in this time of national crisis. We need real patriots now."

"It is cheering to think of friends in distant lands. We are all very much alike, moved by the same hopes, ambitions, likes and dislikes; in short, we are all human."

"It is not a question of what men ought to be thinking about; it is a question of what men are thinking about."

-Paul Percy Harris (April 19, 1868–January 27, 1947) 


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