Davidson Tribute

​Albert Tribute To Davidson

At the fourth plenary session of the Rotary International convention held at Detroit, Mich., U. S. A., on June 28th, 1934, Allen D. Albert, President of Rotary International in 1915-1916, paid tribute to the memory of Rotarian Jim Davidson, the Honorary General Commissioner in Asia. The tribute was published in “Making New Friends”, a book by Davidson’s widow, Lillian Dow Davidson, about the travels and people found on Jim Davidson’s trek through the Middle East and Far East for Rotary International. With him for the entire travel were his wife and their young daughter, Marjory. Davidson’s objective was to establish new Rotary clubs, and he spent US$250,000 of his own money on the 30-month trip, which produced more than twenty clubs from Athens to Singapore.

Doug Rudman

Tribute To A Rotary Torch-Bearer

James W. Davidson–June 14, 1872–July 18, 1933

By Allen D. Albert, President of Rotary International (1915-1916)

Good movements among men would quickly die if they were only calculations of good. We reason about them; we seek to measure them and define them in terms of practical gain. Yet we are not drawn to them by our logic. We respond to them as good movements because we feel something that is divine within us answering to an overtone that is divine.

Rotary is a movement of the love of men for their fellows. Now love is not a thing to be reasoned about. It is not to be expressed in formulas or equations. It cannot be put into the terms of a contract. It is a giving. Rotary is a movement in which men give of themselves for the help of mankind. That is what is meant by service. When we say “He profits most who serves best” we mean that if we men of the earth will but give of our best to each other, we shall find ourselves in a world made better by our giving.

We must live, to be sure. That is a way of saying we must earn our living. It is the distinguishing mark of Rotary that it combines these two things—the earning of our living and our giving to our fellows.

When a lawyer becomes a Rotarian he engages that in pleading a case in court he will give something of himself into the case and that he will not take a case into which he cannot give himself. When the merchant Rotarian sells something over a counter he pledges that he will give something of himself along with the sale. When the physician Rotarian goes on his calls, the engineer builds a viaduct, the Rotarian advertising writer composes an advertisement, we look to them, first, that they shall do honest work and, then, that they shall add something of themselves to the honest work. The soul of Rotary is in this element of giving through one’s work.

To some it will seem a marvelous thing that a movement, which has giving for its spirit should spread around the earth in the lifetime of one man and convoke in a great industrial center an assembly of thousands to counsel together how to give more and more. I think it is no marvel. I recall that the patriot Garibaldi summoned the youth of Italy not by holding out to them tempting promises of gain but by calling them to sacrifice. He could not offer them loot, he said, or brave uniforms, or the triumphant taking of cities; he could offer them only hunger, probable defeat, and ignominy, death it might be, if not from the cold then from the guns of a firing squad. What he had to offer was the opportunity to give of themselves for the impalpable good of a thing called the freedom of Italy. The young men of Italy who were most like your sons and mine heard that call as to something within them which was divine.

No wonder, then, that Rotary should gather to itself generous men. It is a very co-partnership of the generous. What one of us has come here but to learn to give, to find the better way of giving through his work, to refresh his consecrations, to speak of giving, from such a rostrum, to his brothers of every calling? It is out of such councils as this that we have recruited the leaders of Rotary.

Let no one assume to list those leaders in any order, to say that such a one was great and such another one greater. He will find himself confounded like the nobleman in the legend who would erect a great temple – do you remember? – which should be his tribute to God and his only. He would pay for every stone, for every blow of the mason’s mallet, for every bit of colored glass. When the cathedral was finished God exhibited to him in a vision a long procession of givers to it and the chief among them was a peasant woman who gave wisps of hay to the horses that dragged the sleds of stone up the hill in front of her cottage.

We turn our thought today to one of whom it is warrantable to say that he spent his richest years in giving unto Rotary and through Rotary in giving unto mankind. He would be uncomfortable to hear himself spoken of as more than one in a fellowship of those who gave what they could. Of their own merits modest men are dumb. Yet we set aside this moment in the lives of the thousands of us who are gathered at this Detroit Convention because we are conscious that he gave and gave abundantly and we would make such an acknowledgment of his giving that all the world might know.

[At this moment a large photograph of Rotarian Davidson was illuminated on the platform and remained so until the memorial address was concluded.]

He was Rotarian James Wheeler Davidson of the Club of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The God who has set labor and rest as day and night to men successive called this one of his sons unto Himself on an evening in July of last year. Davidson had lived fully and that death which is the brother of sleep came to him after a career of useful business and professional life, of travel and adventure such as few men have ever experienced, of giving himself in measures too deep for any but great hearts to fill.

This was a man who went with Peary to the arctic. Who was a war correspondent attached first to a Chinese and then to a Japanese army. Who became a consul of the United States in Formosa and wrote there a work on that island which is still widely read and used. Who served for a time as United States Consul General in the largest of the consular stations of his country, that at Shanghai.

Had his life ended with that service in 1903, the man Davidson would have been written down a success. But in 1906 he opened another chapter. He went to Calgary and after a time became a Canadian citizen.

When Rotary was disclosed to him there in 1914 its message of giving went straightway to his heart and the new chapter of his life became one of a journeying forth to carry the ideals of Rotary from Calgary to the far places of the earth.

With Colonel James Layton Ralston of Halifax, Nova Scotia, he undertook the extension of Rotary to the British Dominions of Australia and New Zealand. That work done, he served as governor of Rotary’s District Number 4 and in succession was a member of the extension committee of Rotary International, director, third vice-president and chairman of the committee on international service.

His business enterprise and wide travels had accustomed Davidson to think and plan broadly. In August, in 1928, he and his wife and their daughter Marjory set off to fill the gap in the Rotary girdle which then extended from the Caspian Sea to the China Sea. He had expected to spend about eight months on the mission. Instead he spent more than thirty months.

More than a score of Rotary clubs represented in this convention from the Orient are the fruit of his energy and enthusiasm. In certain cities the problem was to induct into Rotary self-organized clubs. In others he persuaded high government officers, even the brother of a king, to participate actively in the organization of clubs. Here the obstruction was a rigid demarcation of society by lines of caste. Here it was the aloofness of the men best able to comprehend and fulfill an ideal of giving for the good of mankind.

Adventure is to the adventurous. The Davidsons underwent hardships that might well have daunted even a Peary. On a road in the Malay jungle their automobile was upset into a ditch of water from which natives rescued them and afterwards ministered unto them in thatched huts. Davidson had several fevers. His daughter was dangerously poisoned by insect bite.

Every traveler knows how the next land beckons, and since the next land meant Rotary to the Davidsons their stay in the East lengthened on and on, despite the mishaps, the perils and the calls of business and home.

Is there Rotary in the ancient city of Athens? Davidson took it there. In Jerusalem, Cairo, Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Colombo, Rangoon, Thayetmyo, the Federated Malay States, Java, Sumatra, the Straits Settlements and Siam? Davidson planted it. The conditions were new. If clubs were to be stable they must be nurtured through the years. That work, the Rotary Commissioner perforce left to residents. The long endeavor to foster a better understanding among national, racial and religious groups, with various interests, and mutually aloof, of necessity must rest with their own leaders and with us of Rotary elsewhere in the world who may have the opportunity to support and fortify those leaders.

The Rotary argosy was no mere putting into coves and sailing away. A member of the faculty of the University of Melbourne has written us this acknowledgment: “Thirteen years have passed since Davidson and Ralston founded in Melbourne the first Antipodean Rotary Club. Time in its course is taking from us one by one those who were privileged to enter into the circle of Davidson’s friendship and to come under the spell of his enthusiasm, but the movement he started goes on in ever increasing volume, range and energy, and his dynamic personality survives in what the future will reverence as a fitting memorial to a man guided by a great ideal.”

The fairly familiar phrase “his dynamic personality” does not wholly describe Jim Davidson. Everything about him was big—body, head, brain, voice, laugh, straight look of the eyes, heart, purpose, ideal, love of Rotary. His business was big—he became an extensive owner of real estate in Canada. His faith was vast. He and Mrs. Davidson and Marjory strengthened the ties of rich family devotion by winding them about with common experiences around the world, by travel, the great test of companionship, by steamers on ocean and river, by rail, automobile and aeroplane, by pushcar, camel and elephant. These conveyances bore the man Davidson to more than two thousand other men in their offices and counting-rooms. Wherever they took him he was a torch-bearer, shedding the light of sympathetic understanding upon peoples of the earth newly entered into the fellowship of Rotary.

We who are the brothers in Rotary to Jim Davidson think of him in this memorial hour not as one who has gone from us so much as one who remains with us through that which he gave along with his work. In an international assembly of Rotarians we have consciousness of his presence. We know that the two who knew him best and loved him most have the same consciousness and we would that our gratitude might strengthen it.

The soft wings of peace now cover him round. But the thing that is divine in us is not confined by our death. Wherever there has been glowing generosity, radiant sympathy, a giving of self through work in our little companies of the Rotary brotherhood, those qualities shine on and on when we are gone as the stars shine in the Canadian night.

Col. J. Layton Ralston, King’s Counsel, D.S.O., C.M.G., D.C.L., C.C S., was appointed Minister of Defense in the Canadian Government in 1926. He was a well-known lawyer of Halifax, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and in 1921 was one of the two Special Commissioners of Rotary, along with Jim Davidson, who organized the first Rotary clubs in Australia and New Zealand. The picture appeared on page 30 of the November 1926 issue of The Rotarian.