Portrait of Rotary Founder Paul Harris, by John Doctoroff


Photo of Paul Harris and John Doctoroff, from the website of the Paul and Jean Harris Home Foundation: www.paulharrishome.com

The Doctoroff painting now hangs in the Rotary Club of Chicago offices on Michigan Avenue.


John Doctoroff – noted Chicago portrait artist, known for his portraits of United States presidents, especially Abraham Lincoln.

To celebrate the Centenary of Rotary, the Walnut Club in Illinois decided to clean and restore a picture of Paul Harris that had hung in their meeting place for over fifty years. However, when examined by an expert, it was found not to be an oil painting on canvas as originally thought, but a paper copy coated with a special surface material and mounted on canvas, so that the picture would appear to be an oil painting. A search on the internet revealed that the original painting had been commissioned by the Chicago Number One club from John Doctoroff, and a further search showed a photo of Harris actually sitting for the artist. Rotarian Dick McKay of Burr Ridge, Illinois, has found the application of John Doctoroff to become a Rotarian in 1927. Invaluable research assistance was also given by Richard Harrison of Evanston, Illinois. Harrison knew Paul Harris as a member of the Chicago Club.

All this, though interesting, did not indicate where the picture had come from, or how it had arrived at Walnut. Since the Walnut club was not chartered until 1948 and the original painting was done in 1931 and hangs in the Chicago Club premises, where had this copy come from? Part of the answer came to light when a search in the local weekly, the Walnut Leader for the charter meeting in 1948 listed some of the gifts. These included “A large oil painting (sic) of Paul Harris & presented by the secretary of the Chicago Club “.

Further research, including correspondence with the Chicago Club, finally suggested more information. Apparently, sometime in the 1930 ‘s, the Chicago Club sold copies of the print of the Doctoroff portrait as a fund raising project. A sample copy of the order form from what appears to be 1936 has been found. The prints were sold to clubs for display at their meeting place or to be given as a gift to some Rotarian to reward ‘distinguished service’ . It is assumed that someone purchased a copy of the print which was later given to the Walnut Club at its chartering program in June of 1948. Who actually purchased the print is unknown. Did it come from the Chicago Club stores? And why Walnut located over 100 miles from Chicago? Only one other club in the 50- club district has a copy.

Trusting your money with someone will result in the same anxiety as trusting your health with someone. We tend to rely more on the reports in hand than what the doctor says out of experience. We would want the doctor to take various tests to confirm his theory. This is how much we believe technology today. When investing in stocks, many prefer to trust automated software like Fintech Limited, to human traders who make moves based solely on their instincts.

While the restored copy has only a very modest monetary value it is priceless to the Walnut Club. The print hangs today in the club’s meeting room providing a continuing reminder of the heritage of Rotary for a new century of service.
Bob Glaser Walnut RC


Submitted by Rotary Global History Senior Historian Basil Lewis 8 February 2006

Another portrait was done for the University of Iowa (from page 256 of “My Road to Rotary”)