17 February 2014 — Presidents


This image has not yet been updated to include the 2013-2014 President of Rotary International, but you get the idea.

This image has not yet been updated to include the 2013-2014 President of Rotary International, but we’re sure you get the idea.


Monday, 17 February, marks the observance of Presidents Day in the United States. This Federal holiday was established as February 22 in 1885 to recognize the birthday of George Washington, the first President of the United States. In 1971, it was moved to the third Monday of February each year, and although technically still called the “Washington’s Birthday” holiday by the Federal Government, it has grown to celebrate all U.S. Presidents.

So why not use today as an excuse to take a look at the history of the Presidency of Rotary International?

The first President of Rotary International was Paul Harris, but that is not as obvious as you might think. Paul Harris was not even the first President of a Rotary Club. While he founded Rotary by gathering his friends in Chicago in 1905, in fact Silvester Schiele (one of the original four) was chosen to serve as the first President of the new Club. But in 1910, when representatives of the first 16 Clubs in the world gathered and established the “National Association of Rotary Clubs,” Paul Harris was selected as the group’s first President, serving 1910-1911 and 1911-1912. (In 1912, with Clubs then in Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland, the name was changed to “International Association of Rotary Clubs,” and then shortened in 1922 to Rotary International.)

Some firsts:

The first RI President from outside of the United States was E. Leslie Pidgeon, from the Rotary Club of Winnipeg (also the first Club outside of the United States).

One other Canadian followed in 1921-22 but the first President from outside of either the US or Canada was from the Rotary Club of Tampico, Mexico: I. B. Tom Sutton. (He was born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan.)

In 1931-32 RI was served by its first President from outside of North America entirely: Sydney W. Pascall, from the Rotary Club of London, England.

Other firsts for countries in the ensuing years:

Maurice Duperrey, RC Paris, France, 1937-38
Armando de Arruda Pereira, RC São Paolo, Brazil, 1940-41
Fernando Carbajal, RC Lima, Peru, 1942-43
Angus S. Mitchell, RC Melbourne, Australia, 1948-49
Joaquin Serratosa Cibils, RC Montevideo, Uruguay, 1953-54
Gian Paolo Lang, RC Livorno, Italy, 1956-57
Harold T. Thomas, RC Auckland, New Zealand, 1959-60
Nitish C. Laharry, RC Calcutta, India, 1962-63
Carl P. Miller, RC Los Angeles, California, 1963-64

(two previous RI Presidents were from San Francisco, but Carl Miller was the first from Southern California…LA5, the same Club it is today in District 5280)

C. P. H. Teenstra, RC Hilversum, The Netherlands, 1965-66
Kiyoshi Togasaki, RC Tokyo, Japan, 1968-69
Ernst G. Breitholtz, RC Kalmar, Sweden, 1971-72
W. Jack Davis, RC Hamilton, Bermuda, 1977-78
Rolf J. Klärich, RC Helsinki-Helsingfors, Finland, 1980-81
M.A.T. Caparas, RC Manila, Philippines, 1986-87
Robert Barth, RC Aarau, Switzerland, 1993-94
Luis Vicente Giay, RC Arrecifes, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1996-97
Bhichai Rattakul, RC Dhonburi, Bangkok, Thailand, 2002-2003
Jonathan B. Majiyagbe, RC Kano, Nigeria, 2003-2004
Dong Kurn “D.K.” Lee, RC Seoul Hangang, Seoul, Korea, 2008-2009
John Kenny, RC Grangemouth, Scotland, 2010-2011
Gary C.K. Huang, RC Taipei, Taiwan, to serve in 2014-2015
K.R. “Ravi” Ravindran, Rotary Club of Colombo, Western Province, Sri Lanka, to serve in 2015-2016

The practice of each President’s choosing a “theme” for the Rotary Year started in 1953-54, skipped every other year, but has been continuous since 1957-58. For a list of the Presidents and their themes, click here.  There are some interesting ones; by far the most interesting to your Programs Chair–who has just learned to his surprise, yet not much of a surprise, that it was the Rotary President’s theme at the time he was born, was from the aforementioned Carl P. Miller from LA5, who chose the theme “Meeting Rotary’s Challenge in the Space Age.”  Whether or not we have succeeded is unclear, but a Rotary Club’s trading banner did orbit the moon in the possession or Rotarian and astronaut Frank Borman in 1968 on board Apollo 8.  (One Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar has been in orbit, Naoko Yamazaki, in NASA/JAXA jacket, below.)








And how is the Rotary International President chosen from year to year?  We’ll let Past RI President Cliff Dochterman tell you, from his book “The ABCs of Rotary.”

Each year, a distinguished Rotarian is selected as the worldwide president of Rotary International. The process begins one year in advance when a 17-person nominating committee is elected from separate zones of the world. To qualify for the nominating committee, a Rotarian must have served on the RI Board of Directors. If no past director from the zone is able to serve, a past trustee of The Rotary Foundation or a past district governor who has served on an RI committee may be appointed to the nominating committee.

The nominating committee may consider all past RI directors for candidacy. Members of the nominating committee and current directors are not eligible. Any Rotary club may suggest the name of a former RI director to the committee for consideration.

The committee convenes in September to select the Rotarian to be the presidential nominee, whose name is announced to all clubs. Any Rotary club may make an additional nomination before 1 December, which must then be endorsed by 1 percent of all the Rotary clubs of the world (about 320 clubs). If such an event occurs, an election is held by mail ballot. If no additional nomination is presented by the clubs, the person selected by the nominating committee is declared the president-nominee. At the international convention, the president-nominee is elected by voice vote and becomes the president-elect for the following year, which is spent preparing to serve the Rotarians of the world as the international president.

Everyone have a safe, happy U.S. President’s Day holiday (and week).


6 responses to 17 February 2014 — Presidents

  1. From the current President to Past President of the Rotary E-Club of the GSFV, thank you for that interesting program on Rotary presidents. How presidential!

  2. I think it is interesting seeing the different themes from over the years. They usually hang the theme banners at the International Convention.

  3. Thanks for the info.

  4. Thanks, Mel. That was a very interesting program and a nice tie-in to President’s Day.

  5. I didn’t know that about Paul Harris. I thought he was the president of his club. Thanks for educating me.

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