Paul Harris

Paul Percy Harris,

Paul Percy Harris was born in Racine, Wisconsin on 19 April, 1868, the second of six children of George Harris, a pharmacist, and Cornelia Bryan Harris. At three-and-a half years of age he went to live with his paternal grandparents Howard and Pamela Ruskin Harris in Wallingford, Vermont and thereafter had little contact with the other members of his family. After graduating from Princeton University and the Law School of the University of Iowa in 1891 he spent five years roaming the United States and Europe following a number of occupations, he began practising Law in Chicago in 1896. Since 1900 he had contemplated the formation of a club for men which would encourage friendship. On the evening of 23 February, 1905, he met with Silvester Schiele, a coal merchant, Gustave Loehr, a mining engineer and Hiram Shorey, a manufacturing tailor in Loehr’s office in Room 710 of the old Unity Building. Here, he outlined his ideas for such a club and received the support of all. A further meeting was approved to be held two weeks later, when Schiele was elected president and a fifth member Harry Ruggles, a printer became a member. It is unlikely that any of those first five members could have any thought that their club would last for more than100 years nor that over that passage of time, more than 1.2 million men and women would form nearly 32,000 similar clubs in 158 countries, all joined in the two ideals of Fellowship and Service.

On occasions in those earliest days, Paul Harris sometimes disagreed with the direction taken by his own club, but was always encouraged by his good friend, Silvester Schiele. Harris was a gifted writer and many of his essays not only articulated the philosophy of Rotary as ir developed but also helped form it. It is overlooked at times that in its formative years, Rotary had but two objects; the promotion of business interests and friendship, prompting the far-sighted Rotarian, Arch Klumph to later observe that “The first five years are nothing which Rotary can be proud of.”

In August, 1910, the sixty delegates of sixteen clubs met in Chicago for the first Convention, formed the Association of Rotary Clubs and elected Paul Harris to be the first President. He was re-elected at the 1911 Convention and when the Association became Rotary International in 1912, was elected President emeritus. Throughout his lifetime which was dogged by ill-health following a near-fatal heart attack in 1912, until his death on 29 January, 1947, Paul Harris was the international face of Rotary, its creator and philosopher.