Rotary’s first general secretary
Chesley R. Perry, Rotary’s first general secretary.
R otary has had twelve people serve as general secretary.
The first was Chesley Reynolds Perry, a Spanish-American War veteran and former Chicago Public Library employee.
In August 1910, the newly formed National Association of Rotary Clubs unanimously selected Perry for the role, then known as secretary. He accepted the part-time position at $100 per month, with an agreement that the amount of time he would devote would remain unspecified.
By 1912, the job had evolved into a full-time executive role, and the Board of Directors agreed to increase Perry’s salary.
His office on LaSalle Street in Chicago served as the first headquarters of the National Association. In 1911, Rotary established an office in the First National Bank Building at Dearborn and Monroe streets. The headquarters would move five more times during Perry’s term -- always into rented facilities.
Perry served in the position longer than any of his successors. He also served as editor and business manager of The Rotarian from 1911 to 1928, and he opened Rotary’s first international office, in Zurich, in February 1925. During his final year in office in 1941-42, the position’s title was changed to general secretary.
In 1940, when Perry announced his plans to retire, he agreed to remain in his post while the organization trained his replacement, Philip C. Lovejoy. A number of clubs sought to nominate Perry for RI president in 1942-43, but he declined, saying, “I am gratefully conscious of the high compliment thereby being paid to me.”
After retiring, Perry remained a member of the Rotary Club of Chicago, and served as its president in 1944-45. In 1954, Rotary offered him the title “secretary emeritus” to honor his years of service, but he again declined, preferring the role of ordinary Rotarian.
Perry died on 21 February 1960 at the age of 87.
For more information: