Life and times of Paul Harris
Death of a legend
Paul Harris’s headstone at Mount Hope Cemetery on the South Side of Chicago. Silvester Schiele, the first president of the Rotary Club of Chicago, is buried a few feet away. Jean Harris is buried in Scotland.
Funeral procession at Morgan Park Congregational Church.
In December 1945, the Harrises traveled to Tuskegee, Alabama, for the winter months, a trip they had made many times. He was not feeling well when they departed from Chicago by train. Shortly after they arrived, Harris received word that Sylvester Schiele, one of Rotary’s four founding members, had died.
In Tuskegee on 20 December 1945, Leland Childs interviewed Harris about the founding and future of Rotary. Listen to the interview and read the transcript .
Download the file
In early 1946, Harris contracted influenza. Chesley R. Perry, a member of the Rotary Club of Chicago and Rotary’s general secretary from 1910 to 1942, traveled to Tuskegee and reported that Harris was receiving good medical advice but remained weak: “He has had some lung trouble over many years. He was not getting the proper amount of sleep, nor proper nourishment.” The Harrises did not return to Chicago until 28 March 1946 and did not make the trip to Tuskegee the next year.
Harris died 27 January 1947 in Chicago at age 78 after his prolonged illness. Funeral services were held at Morgan Park Congregational Church on Chicago’s South Side. Three Rotary leaders spoke: Perry, Past RI President T.A. Warren, and then RI President Richard Hedke. Past presidents of the Rotary Club of Chicago served as pallbearers. Read a transcript of their speeches .
Harris had made it known that he preferred contributions to The Rotary Foundation upon his death in lieu of flowers. Days before he died, Rotary leaders had re-committed the organization to satisfying a 1938 resolution to raise $2 million. (At that time, the Foundation had about $650,000 in its accounts.) Upon news of his death, the Paul Harris Memorial Fund was created as a way to solicit these funds. Rotarians were encouraged to commemorate the late founder of Rotary by contributing to the fund, which would be used for purposes dear to Harris's heart.
The Paul Harris Memorial Fund was earmarked to help establish Rotary Foundation Fellowships for advanced study, thereby fulfilling one of the four new Foundation objectives approved by the RI Board of Directors and The Rotary Foundation Board of Trustees in January 1946. At its May/June 1947 meeting, the Board of Directors allocated $60,000 of the $228,000 raised to support the program. (Although initially restricted to 10 fellowships, the program ended up supporting 18 fellows in its first year). During the first year, the program was known as the Paul Harris Foundation Fellowships for advanced study.