The visits of Paul Harris to Manchester

The visits of Paul Harris to Manchester
Although Paul Harris passed through Manchester on his way from Liverpool to Leeds in 1928, he does not appear to have attended any meetings there. He did, however, meet some of the club members, among them Peter Thomason, the President of the British Association of Rotary Clubs in 1916, when they attended functions in Liverpool and later in Clumber Park.

It was not until 1934 that Paul Harris made an official visit to the club and even this was nearly cancelled. In company with Jean, Paul had begun the year with an extended tour of Britain, before going on to South Africa. On the voyage back on the Union Castle liner 'Winchester Castle', Paul Harris caught a severe cold and decided to cancel his planned visits to English Rotary clubs and instead continue direct to Scotland to "visit informally some of the clubs which by reason of their remote location had seldom been visited by the officers of RIBI and never by officers of RI", let alone Rotary's founder himself. While in Inverness, he received a telegram from RIBI asking him to reconsider the cancellation of his visits to English clubs. It pointed out that it was too late to cancel the proposed inter-city meetings in Cheltenham, Shrewsbury and Manchester. As the Highland air seemed to have done him some good and he now felt much reinvigorated, the President Emeritus wired London to say that he would return in time to keep these engagements.

On June 7, 1934, Paul Harris was met at Crewe by President Percy Reay and Lewis Sladen of the Manchester Club who drove him on to his next engagement. When the little group reached the Midland Hotel, one of the first to greet them was Fred Foxall who had been a founder member of the club in 1911. Paul Harris' visit to the Manchester Club lunch at the Alexandra Room in the hotel was the occasion of the biggest meeting that club had ever seen, attended as it was by 111 Manchester members, 132 other Rotarians from 41 of the nearby clubs and 118 ladies and non-Rotarians. Members came from all round the District as well as from Birmingham, Kendal, Swindon, Torquay and Workington. Representatives of each of the visiting clubs were invited to rise in turn and give their greetings to their President Emeritus, if possible "in two words". One visitor delighted the assembly by wishing the Founder "the best of good things from Britain's premier seaside resort", another from Wrexham wished him "good health" in Welsh, while a Clitheroe member capped the lot with "By gum, he's a champion."

Then, after a toll of the bell, there was a hushed silence and the tall erect figure of Percy Reay rose and invited "our President Emeritus Paul Harris to address us." Harris began his speech, after a prolonged ovation, by saying that Manchester, as one of the Founder Clubs in the British Isles (Charter number 4), meant a great deal to Rotary. For the main body of his talk, he dealt with the 'Sixth Object of Rotary' saying that Rotarians should try to break down the habit of one nationality speaking disparagingly of another, a reflection perhaps of his experience on Deeside. He instanced the disparaging views about some Eastern races who ate raw fish while forgetting that Westerners ate raw oysters. Harris went on to describe some of his experiences from his recent trip to South Africa. He ended by urging all Rotarians to be 'Ambassadors of Goodwill'. At the close of the meeting, Paul Harris stood by the door and shook hands with everyone as they left, a much appreciated gesture.

Later in the day he went to meet Mrs Golding, the President of Inner Wheel, and discussed with her, not only his wife Jean's interest in the work of Rotary's womenfolk but also his hope that Inner Wheel would soon be "internationalised". After this, Harris went out to the country home of Percy Reay at Prestbury where they chatted over a cup of tea mainly about the people Harris had met on his journeying round the world. Some years later, Reay recalled Harris as being "a happy little man with a Yankee voice, a Texan hat and a stride reminiscent of a kangaroo." However, he was less complimentary about Harris' actual performance as a speaker and observed that "Paul Harris was a very poor speaker and certainly didn't look a great leader, but that he was a most interesting character". Reay made this comment in the 1980s long after the event. Nevertheless, Percy Reay described it as "the highlight of my year as President" and the two and their respective wives certainly got on well together at a personal level. Indeed, although Reay offered to take Paul Harris on a drive through Cheshire, "he much preferred people to places" and instead they went to take tea at Reay's house. Later that day, Paul Harris returned to the Midland Hotel in Manchester for a dinner with Past Presidents and other officers of the Manchester Club.

For his last day in England on this tour, June 8, he was escorted by Seymour Bell. They went first to the offices of the Manchester Guardian where they were warmly welcomed by the legendary editor John Scott. From there it was a short step to the new Central Public Library. Paul Harris pointed out that the Library of the City of Chicago maintained a collection of all important Rotary publications and hoped to be able to put the two city libraries in touch with each other. Finally, accompanied now by a dozen Manchester Rotarians, Paul went to the Central Station and caught the 12.30 train to Liverpool. They then went down to the Pierhead to board the White Star liner 'Laurentic' for Canada, took tea in one of the ship's lounges and said their goodbyes. Before leaving the ship Tom Headon was asked to convey to the Manchester Club, his very best wishes and deep appreciation of his reception.

Paul Harris was next in Manchester in 1937. The Manchester Club's regular meeting was on a Thursday but on hearing that Harris would be passing through their city en route for the Isle of Man, a special evening meeting had been arranged for Friday July 9 at the Victoria Hotel. Despite the short notice, 110 Rotarians from 19 clubs gathered to meet and greet their distinguished guest. His talk on that evening was described in the club bulletin as "of the informal homely kind- the sort of thing that goes with slippers, an armchair and the usual accessories, and it made him a host of friends. He reduced the torrent of words about Rotary's philosophy of life to the simple elemental things, friendliness and usefulness, and gave characteristic illustrations of the way these qualities are found time and time again to be instructive in really great men. One thought he gave us," wrote the bulletin editor, "upon which we might well ponder was that Rotary was not a sacrificial life. To some that may mean a real adjustment of outlook and it is a dictum which can well provoke thought and discussion". Again, as in his 1934 visit to Manchester, Paul Harris made a point of shaking hands with all present as they filed past on their way out. As the bulletin report concluded, "There was one at least who felt that, in spirit at all events, his real name was Peter Pan."

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