Paul Harris was a Chicago area attorney at the turn of the last century. Believing that a lot of positive things could happen when business people got together and worked collaboratively, he founded the service organization now known as Rotary International.
While the logo for Rotary is a gear wheel, the name actually represents the original meeting tradition of rotating the site of the weekly meeting among the members’ places of business.
The Paul Harris Fellowship was created to recognize contributors to The Rotary Foundation: the arm of the international service club that funds all kinds of humanitarian projects around the world.Most notable among these projects has been the elimination of polio worldwide through vaccinations in third world countries.
Rotary identified that universal goal of eliminating the disease and with the laser focus of a well-organized business, took on the challenge and achieved the goal.
While Paul Harris Fellows are recognized for reaching designated levels of support, contributors may also name someone else as a Fellow in recognition of that individual’s special achievements.
What makes this designation special for me is that I have not been an active Rotarian for the past eight years.I asked for inactive membership status when I changed jobs and knew that the travel requirement would make it nearly impossible for me to attend regular meetings of my Rotary club.
I had been in Rotary since 1995, serving in three clubs over an eleven-year period.I was President of my club in upstate New York for a one-year term.
When I asked to be moved to inactive status, I knew that Rotary would not be as big a part of my life now as it was before. But I believed in the Rotary Foundation.Wiping out polio worldwide was an achievable goal and the organization was primed to make that happen; and it did.
There have been other projects that are just as significant.When the Indian Ocean tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004, Rotary was there to help in the aftermath.Safer water for parts of the world where that just doesn’t happen has been a priority in recent years.
Rotary has been to earthquake worn areas within hours of the initial shocks.There are hundreds, of projects where Rotary International stepped to the plate, rolled up some sleeves and got down to the business of helping people.
So when it was clear to me that I would not be an active Rotarian as least through the duration of my current job, I did experience a sense of loss.At practically every Rotary meeting, someone mentions the work of Rotary and the need to support the Rotary Foundation. During my first ten years in Rotary, I heard lots of speeches about the work of the Foundation.
But during those early years, there were other demands on my family. About all I could do then was make a few token donations.
In the end, it was a twenty-year journey from becoming a member of Rotary International to achieving the Paul Harris Fellowship. While I haven’t been part of a local club in nearly a decade, I remain very proud of the journey and very blessed to be part of the effort that is stated so clearly in the organization’s Four-Way Test:is it the truth, it is fair to all, will it build goodwill, and will it be beneficial.
For more on Rotary International, go to www.rotary.org