Meeting Paul Harris: We Listened and Learned

The idea of meeting Paul Harris peaks my interest. It is the kind of thing that “Why I Am A Rotarian” does in this website for Rotary Global History. It is an essential part of all that you, Jack Selway, and many other hands have done. It is needed. It fits the website and its future. No one knows where speculation goes but it should be an adventure that RGHF continues and that we all embark upon. There will be some of us who have traveled with Paul Harris on this (even when we do not write anything to go with what he started in Chicago or Jack Selway created with RGHF). What we would do if we met Paul Harris is up to each individual but what I would do is first say, “It is real privilege to meet you. I have admired you for years,” then I would say, “Thank you for starting Rotary. We listened and learned.”

Hopefully, we would share stories. I would tell him this one: “The other night a superior but silent student came up to me after class and said, “All semester a question has stuck in my head: Why are you teaching here at this two year college? I have taken classes at Rice and the U. of Texas. You should be teaching there. You are one of the best teachers that I have had. You know a lot about art and culture.” I said, “Teachers teach. Not for the prestige but to open minds.” “Well,” you do that,” he smiled, “But why here?” “It is ten minutes from my home. I can teach two classes and get off for three to four weeks to go on ‘Fulbright grants’ to anywhere in the world. It is a pact between me and the college, they gain and I get what I want. And you are no different than the students at Rice or the U. of Texas. If I can turn you on, it will carry into wherever you transfer. And as I said, teachers teach. I am a teacher and an artist. If I was not paid, I would be doing it in a public square somewhere.” He left after that, thanking me again for teaching at this junior college. And I went home energized, not just because of his words, but because a student had really listened. You always get one or two who listen and think. It is why many of us work for RGHF, I believe. We serve and by doing it some others take up the challenge. But ever now and then, we need someone to say, “Gee, we listened.”


I would ask him (Paul Harris) if the honors got in the way of his journey of “service above self” and “service without borders” or did it open worldwide doors that might have been closed had he not done all that he did and was honored for doing? He would probably say, “Being a celebrity can be a curse as well as a blessing”. We would share, hopefully, adventures with fellowships and pursuits of peace. We would alternately talk and listen. Certainly, I would ask his advice about how to help foster peace in today’s chaotic, dangerous and violent world.

  • Did he miss Vermont in Chicago or did he take it with him all this life?
  • Who were his mentors and teachers?
  • What works of art inspired him and flamed his passions for life and action?
  • Where should I plant the next friendship tree with his blessing?
  • So many questions. So little time. So much to do before “the dying of the light”!


Joe Kagle, 24 March 2007