Life and times of Paul Harris
Service to Rotary
At the 1944 RI Convention in Chicago, representatives of the Dominican Republic presented Harris with the Heraldic Order of Cristobal Colon. Ten years earlier, at the international convention in Detroit, Michigan, the Boys Scouts of America presented Harris with its Silver Buffalo Award for distinguished service to youth. He received many other awards, including Peru’s Order of the Sun (1936) and France’s Legion of Honor, Officer Class (1937).
Harris either gave or prepared a message to be read at every Rotary convention from 1910 to 1946. He delivered his message to the 1933 international convention
in Boston in person on 26 June.
After setting up his law practice in Chicago, Harris conceived of an organization for local professionals to meet for fellowship and collaboration. He proposed the idea to several business associates, and on 23 February 1905, they held what would later become known as the first Rotary club meeting.
Harris, Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, and Hiram Shorey gathered at Loehr’s office in Room 711 of the Unity Building in downtown Chicago to discuss the idea of forming the new organization. They later held a second meeting, to which they invited a fifth member, Harry Ruggles. By the third meeting, which had a greater turnout than the previous ones, the club members had elected Schiele as their first president.
Albert White succeeded Schiele to become the club's second president. Harris deferred any club leadership duties until February 1907, when he was elected the third president of the Rotary Club of Chicago, a position he held until the fall of 1908. During his presidency, he formed the Executive Committee, later called the Ways and Means Committee, which met during lunch and was open to any member of the club. The noon meeting was the foundation for Rotary's tradition of club luncheon meetings.
Toward the end of his club presidency, Harris covertly worked to extend Rotary beyond Chicago. Initially, some club members resisted extension, not wanting to shoulder the additional financial burden it would involve. Harris and other Rotarians persisted and by 1910 Rotary had expanded to several other major U.S. cities.
Harris recognized the need to form an executive board of directors and a national association. In August 1910, largely because of Harris's work, Rotarians held their first national convention in Chicago. The 16 clubs then in existence unified as the National Association of Rotary Clubs. The new association unanimously elected Harris as its president.
At the end of his second term, Harris resigned, citing ill health, “husbandly duties,” and the demands of his professional practice. He was elected president emeritus by convention action, a title he held until his death.
In the mid-1920s, Harris became actively involved in Rotary again, attending conventions and visiting clubs throughout the world.
Listen to Harris speak during the intermission of the 27 June live radio broadcast of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance at the 1933 international convention.
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Watch a video of Harris talking to early members of the Rotary Club of Chicago on 23 February 1932, Rotary's 27th anniversary.