Biography of Jean T. Harris

Biography of Jean T. Harris
November 8, 1881 - November 9, 1963
Daughter of John and Annie Thomson
Beloved wife of Paul P. Harris
A Biography composed of the memories as recorded by one who knew her as few others could have – Paul P. Harris.

Having spent one year working for George Clark, whom Paul refers to as his employer-chum, he decided it was time to move on having spent that year with the purpose of saving money for future adventures.

According to Paul:
As the twelve-months’ period was drawing to a close, Paul notified George of his intended departure. George answered: “Is there no where else you care to go?” Paul answered: “Yes, there is one more place, but I doubt your willingness to send me.”

“Where is it?” inquired George.

“Europe,” said Paul.

Two weeks later the wanderer was once again on high seas, under orders of his employer-chum, to visit the granite-producing regions of Scotland, and the marble-producing regions of Ireland, Belgium, and Italy for the purpose of revising arrangements for buying the products of foreign quarries.

He visited Edinburgh. Fourteen years prior thereto, there had been born to John and Annie Thomson, in that classic city, their fifth child, a girl, bonny, bright-eyed Jean. Her mother says that during the course of her very first breakfast, Jean looked up inquiringly into her mother’s eyes and then settled back as if content. The confidential relationship then and there established has continued through life. Paul was at the time of his visit to Edinburgh of course oblivious to the fact that the future Mrs. Paul was one of “Jock Tamson’s eight bairns”; he was in truth ignorant to the existence of such a family.

The children of John and Annie Thomson were deeply grounded in the religion of Calvin and Knox. It was a rigorous training, one which could not fail to constitute a powerful influence on after life.

On holidays, John and Annie were wont to take their children to the sea shore’ all, except the youngest, walking, though the distance covered frequently amounted to several miles.

The baby Joey rode in the “pram” which was pushed by the parents and by the children in turn. When the distances were great, Mary or another of the younger children was also given a life in the “pram.” Small wonder that the sight of rolling billows, the sniff of salt air bring tender memories to Jean’ that they remind her of the sacred days of childhood spent in the companionship of father, mother, brothers and sisters. The meeting of Jean with Paul will be described later.


Having retained his love of country rambles, Paul became a charter member of the Prairie Club of Chicago when it was organized in 1907. He credits that organization with having provided him with the opportunity to obtain both a wife and a home to his liking. In company with other members he spent his Saturday afternoons, whenever possible, hiking over the country contiguous to Chicago. He had a special fondness for the sand dunes on the Indiana shore of Lake Michigan and there he spent many days and nights renewing his strength and enjoying the outdoors.

One Saturday afternoon in mid-winter he was hiking with friends in the Beverly Hills-Morgan Park district when he chanced to see several boys coasting down a hill. The scene reminded him so vividly of his boyhood days in Vermont that it seemed to him that he would like some day to have a home there.

A little later, while on a Saturday afternoon hike, he met Jean, heretofore referred to, as the fifth bairn of John and Annie Thomson, who three years prior thereto had come with her brothers and sisters to this country from Edinburgh, Scotland. Within three months from the date of that meeting, Jean became Mrs. Paul Harris and two years later he placed her in a home of her own on the top of the wooded hill, having christened [named] the place “Comely Bank” in honor of the street in beautiful Edinburgh where Jean’s eyes first opened to the light of day. It will be observed that Paul internationalized his family before internationalizing Rotary, thus manifesting the possession of sporting blood and of his willingness to take his own medicine. He hopes that the international character of his marriage with Jean may prove to be a good omen for Rotary.

Two women have exercised strong influences upon Paul; the one was his grandmother, and the other, his wife.

Paul’s Scotch lassie recognizes the fact that loyalty is owing the country of her adoption but the bagpipe still sets her toes tingling and the strains of “Annie Laurie” send the crimson blood surging to her cheeks. True to the traditions of her ancestors she permits no cause which she deems worthy to go undefended, and she can mobilize her spiritual forces in a second’s time. Alleged Scotch parsimony in conspicuous in its absence from the heart of bonnie Jean.

As an illustration of her unselfish and impulsive nature, an incident of her childhood may be related.

She had constituted herself protector as well as friend of a crippled playmate. Together they walked to school, Jean helping her over rough places. The school was considerable distance from home and the children were therefore provided with money with which to buy their noon day lunches.

On one occasion, after having loitered along the way, they discovered that they were late, too late for the crippled child. Jean asked her if she had a penny to which she answered, no. In an instant Jean thought of her own lunch money, unhesitatingly stopped a tram, bundled her charge aboard, thrust the penny into her hand and they bounded along the street waving encouragement. They arrived at school on time though the expenditure made it necessary for Jean to fast that day. The immortal Flora Macdonald could not have done more. Jean is ever so, throwing herself with perfect abandon into every breach to which love or duty calls.

Her militant spirit has been made manifest on occasions without number. It is ever present, in fact, waiting only the call for action. This quality of mind and heart was made painfully manifest one day to the driver of a team of horses which he was brutally belaboring with his whip in an attempt to surmount a slippery hill. He will not soon forget the dressing down he received from the excited and belligerent little girl who appeared upon the scene in unexpected manner. Jean’s impetuous espousal of needy causes and her disposition to throw herself into them has been the occasion of a good deal of worry to Paul, particularly when she happens to be called to the city. His mind is never at rest until she is seated in the suburban train bound for their home in the country. He fears that her sense of duty may prompt her to disregard her own safety. Jean is essentially a home girl, a lover of good books and of the wholesome things of life. She and Paul spend their evenings, as a rule, in “Comely Bank,” reading together. When it is Paul’s turn to read, Jean’s busy fingers fashion garments for the fatherless babes that are born at Cook County hospital. She has made hundreds of such garments during the course of years. Had Jean been a different type, Paul’s course could not have been as it was. In her way she has made material though inconspicuous contribution to the cause of Rotary.

During the past two years Paul and Jean have visited Rotary Clubs in all parts of the United States, in Bermuda, Mexico and Cuba.

Two years ago, the board of directors of Rotary International, passed a resolution in favor of extending them an invitation to make an around the world trip in the interests of the movement. It was not practical at the time to accept but it is not improbably that the journey will be made in the not far distant future.

The above text is excerpted from The Founder of Rotary, Paul P. Harris, by Paul P. Harris, published by Rotary International, Chicago Illinois, 1928.

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