The Visits of Paul Harris

The Visits of Paul Harris to the
Edinburg Rotary Club

On Friday July 13, 1928, the Harrises went to Edinburgh, Jean's native city. There Paul had a rapturous welcome from the local club which had announced two months earlier that, on this occasion, their regular Thursday lunch would be held instead on the Friday at 1 pm. The Club President, R Stuart Pilcher, welcomed their visitor who, because there was already another speaker booked for the meeting, kept his words short.

In what a correspondent to 'The Rotary Wheel' described as "a brief and breezy speech", Paul Harris talked about the progress made by Rotary in several European countries. Although the lunch meeting was for men only, Jean was able to join Paul at an evening meeting held later the same day. Afterwards, the members arranged a convoy of vehicles to provide the Harrises with a late night tour of the city, during which they drove as far as the Forth Bridge reaching it well after midnight! On the way back to the city, despite the lateness of the hour - it was now 1.30 am - Jean suggested that they detour to see the little statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the story of which impressed Paul. While in Edinburgh, Paul Harris sat for a bust being sculpted by a Rotarian and his wife from the South West of England. This was George Mitchell who had driven 400 miles from Somerset on the chance of getting a sitting with Harris, which was readily granted despite the busy schedule.

In March 1934, the Harrises returned to Scotland to stay for a time in Ayrshire with Jean's brother who was now a minister at nearby Annbank. While there, they were greeted by members of the Rotary Clubs of Edinburgh and Dunfermline who had come to ask Paul if he would attend their weekly meetings. So, on April 4, they travelled to Edinburgh where Lord Provost Thomson had invited Rotary's President Emeritus to attend and speak as the guest of honour at the banquet of the Assembly of the Lords Provost of Scotland. Highland pipers played the plaintive 'Road to the Isles' as the Harrises ascended the steps to the City Chambers. For the 52-year-old Jean, who had left her city 25 years earlier, it was a most memorable homecoming. Unsure what to say to the Assembly, Paul decided that the most appropriate topic would be 'Chicago'.
While being entertained by the Lord Provost, "a movie for the archives of Rotary International was staged". Attempts have been made to find this film, a copy of which was sent to RI in the USA, and it was hoped to show it at the Glasgow Convention in 1997 but the search proved unsuccessful.

Next day, April 5, following a brief half hour at the District Council meeting, both Paul and Jean received a rousing welcome from more than 200 Rotarians, their wives and guests at the weekly lunch meeting of the Edinburgh Club held at the North British Hotel. Rotarians from all over Scotland as far afield as Inverness had come to meet the Harrises. Other clubs represented included Glasgow, Dundee, Perth, Stirling, Dunfermline, Paisley, Falkirk, Arbroath, Motherwell, Hamilton and Cupar, and even members from across the border from Berwick on Tweed. The Edinburgh Club President made a presentation to the couple of an inscribed silver salver, which became one of their most treasured possessions. In his brief reply, Paul Harris devoted much of his speech to his wife, saying that he was well aware that they really wanted to see her and not him. Speaking of Scottish people, he went on to say that he had a feeling that the Scots, with all their assumed reserve, were just as sentimental a people as any other. They had been practising the Rotary spirit for generations.

In the evening, they went to dinner with some friends and on the next day, April 6, Paul kept his promise to visit the Dunfermline Club.

On Thursday July 29, 1937, Paul Harris attended what was to be his last Rotary club meeting in Britain at the regular luncheon of the Edinburgh Club. The speaker that day was RIBI Director W B Hislop who reported on the recent Convention in Nice which Paul had attended. That afternoon, Paul, joined by Jean, went on a large Rotary outing to the ancient castle at nearby Newbattle Abbey, his last official engagement before returning to the United States.

Basil Lewis

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