Logo for: Rotary Old Saybrook

Paul Harris

Rotary may be the greatest organization of leaders in the world. With 1.2 million Rotarians in 170 countries, we have an incredible asset of talent, wisdom and know-how in one organization.

It all started with Rotary’s Founder Paul Harris, who today celebrates his 140th birthday. He was born on April 19, 1868.  

Paul Harris is well-known in Rotary, but what most Rotarians may not know is that Paul Harris made his main contributions to Rotary as a young man. He was only 37 years old when Rotary was founded. He was only 44 when his two year term as President of the International Association of Rotary Clubs ended in 1912 (later in 1922 renamed Rotary International).

After 1912, Paul Harris had no formal position in Rotary. He was the Founder of Rotary and continued to influence and inspire Rotary for the rest of his life, until he passed away in 1947.

It is my opinion that Paul Harris’ vision has created the spirit in Rotary as we know it today. Here are some examples of Paul Harris’ wisdom:

  • A well ordered mind is a possession more valuable than unlimited riches.
  • It is just as easy to acquire the habit of speaking kindly as it is to acquire the habit of speaking unkindly.
  • Perhaps dreaming is not so bad if one dreams good dreams and make them come true.
  • Rotary brings out and develops the best there is in men.
  • The Rotary of today is different from the Rotary of yesterday and the Rotary of tomorrow cannot, must not, be the same as the Rotary of today. Rotary will continue to evolve.

Rotary Global History Fellowship publishes a weekly newsletter called “What Paul Harris Said”, which many thousand Rotarians read every week. It provides inspirational quotes by Paul Harris every two weeks. 

Rotary Global History Fellowship is probably the most successful fellowship in Rotary with approximately 1 million visits every year to their websites. 

Rotary Global History Fellowship has a lot of information about Paul Harris. Believe me, it is a very interesting life. Paul Harris was a prolific writer all his life. You can read many things that Paul Harris wrote. 

There is also a recording of a speech by Paul Harris, which he made during the Rotary Convention in Boston in June 1933. 

When you listen to this speech, you will notice how optimistic Paul Harris' was, which is remarkable as his speech took place at a time when both Hitler and Stalin were in power and America went through its deepest depression in history. Despite this reality, Paul Harris held up a strong vision of tolerance, peace and friendship to be realized through Rotary.

I believe that being able to present a strong vision, which inspires others to make it a reality, is what great leadership is all about. Hitler, Stalin and the Great Depression are all gone, but Rotary is still going strong.

Here are some examples of visionary statements by Paul Harris:   

  • The spirit of tolerance which has made it possible for Rotary to form a worldwide fellowship of business and professional men will make all things possible.
  • Rotary allows ordinary people to do extra ordinary things.
  • War is always a ghastly blunder, even the winners loose.

At the Rotary Convention in Chicago in 2005, I met Retired Professor Robina Quale-Leach from Albion, Michigan. She knew Paul Harris when she was a little girl at the age of 12 in 1943. Paul Harris and his wife Jean used to rent a summer house next to her parents. Paul Harris tried many times to convince Robina’s father to join Rotary, without any success. “Little did he know that he convinced me instead,” said Robina. So in 1990, when her local Rotary Club accepted women, Robina was able to Rotary.

During 1943, Robina asked Paul Harris what he thought about the ongoing World War Two. Paul Harris responded to her that he looked forward to the end of the war, so that Rotary could be revived in Germany, Italy and Japan. Paul Harris also told her that he would like Rotarians around the world to make sure that such a war would never happen again.

 Later in November 1943, Rotary sponsored a conference in London with ministers and observers from twenty-one governments. This group began laying plans for what was to become UNESCO.

 During the foundation of the United Nations in 1945, forty-nine Rotarians helped to draft the United Nations Charter in San Francisco and many of the international delegates from around the world were Rotarians.

 At the beginning of the organization conference of the United Nations in San Francisco, the United States delegation invited Rotary International to appoint consultants. Twelve prominent Rotarians served in this capacity with resulting influence on the humane aspects of the Charter. Rotarians at San Francisco helped re-write the preamble (We the peoples rather than we the states). The U.S. government had called upon Rotary to become involved in the founding process during 1945. The Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. wrote:

"The invitation to Rotary International to participate in the United Nations Conference as consultant to the United States delegation was not merely a gesture of good will and respect toward a great organization. It was a simple recognition of the practical part Rotary's members has played and will continue to play in the development of understanding among nations. The representatives of Rotary were needed at San Francisco and, as you well know, they made a considerable contribution to the Charter itself, and particularly to the framing of provisions for the Economic and Social Council."

Upon founding the United Nations, Rotary became one of the original 42 Non Governmental Organizations that were invited to participate. Rotary still maintains this position.

I believe that a strong positive vision is necessary in order to get great things accomplished. Paul Harris once wrote:

In the battle between the “cant’s” and the “cans” in Rotary, the “cants” have never won a single permanent victory to my knowledge. The broad visions, the nobler purposes have always won.

Happy 140th Birthday to Paul Harris! His spirit lives on and I believe that it will continue to influence Rotarians for many years to come.

Yours in Rotary Service,

Matts Ingemanson
Chairman 2004-2006, Rotary Global History Fellowship
District Secretary 2005-2006, Rotary District 7230
District Chairman, Public Image Committee 2005-2006, Rotary District 7230
District Chairman 2002-2004, Group Study Exchange, Rotary District 7230

 If each Rotarian contributes $100 per year to the Rotary Foundation. Rotary would, with its 1,221,920 members around the world, collect $122,192,000. One hundred dollars per year is only 27 cents per day. I have not yet met a Rotarian, who could not afford such an amount. These 27 cents per day would help Rotary make an even bigger difference in the world. You can read more about the Rotary Foundation at www.rotary.org/foundation. 
You can conveniently make a tax deductible $100 donation through the Rotary Foundation website