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Rotary Brazil has a rich history of taking action


Rotary's presence in South America expanded to Brazil with the chartering of the Rotary Club of Rio de Janeiro on 28 February 1923.

Herbert P. Coates, who earlier had stewarded the creation of Rotary's first club on the continent, was also instrumental in establishing new clubs in the large Portuguese-speaking country. Coates was assisted by several people with knowledge of Rotary and connections to Rio de Janeiro, which was then the capital of Brazil.

Early and unofficial efforts by Richard P. Momsen, former United States Consul-General in Rio de Janeiro, identified enough interested businessmen in the city to start a club in early 1921. His work was put on hold because most potential members were Americans. Rotary leaders felt a new club would be more successful with a greater number of Brazilian members. Additionally, the task of overseeing the creation of the club had been entrusted to Coates.

The following year, American Henry H. Lichtwardt, Executive Secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) of Rio de Janeiro, visited Rotary headquarters during a trip to Chicago. He'd moved to Brazil around 1920 and was interested in seeing a Rotary Club formed there. Headquarters provided Lichtwardt with information about Rotary and encouraged him to assist Coates. After meeting in New York, Lichtwardt and Coates returned, separately, to South America and began making plans.

Under their direction, local businessmen held an informational gathering in December 1922 and appointed Brazilian Herbert P. Moses to chair the organizational efforts. Unlike previously, more than half of the club's 18 charter members were Brazilian. The remainder identified as American (including Lichtwardt), British, Canadian, and Venezuelan. Momsen was not among them but would join within the first year.

Coates and the Brazilian members soon set their sights on São Paulo, 300 miles (483 kilometers) away by train. Coates delegated the responsibility of organizing Brazil's second club to Roberto J. Shalders, who was assisted by fellow member Ismael de Oliveria Maia. On 24 March 1925, Rotary officially chartered the 16-member Rotary Club of São Paulo.

  1. Members of the Rotary Club of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in September 1924.

  2. Paul and Jean Harris (third and fourth from left) in the Paul Harris Room at the Rotary Club of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Ernesto Imbassahy de Mello is near the back. 1936.

  3. Postcard offering to host the 1931 convention in Rio de Janeiro.

  4. Organizational meeting of the Rotary Club of São Paulo on 29 February 1924.

  5. Participants at the first Brazilian Rotary conference, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 8 December 1927. Conference topics included the importance of education, particularly the need to promote and support primary school education throughout Brazil.

  6. Attendees at the 1948 Rotary International Convention in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Hosting Rotary

In 1931, the young club in Rio de Janeiro proposed holding the 1933 Rotary International convention there, but wasn't successful. The club's bid for the 1948 convention was accepted, bringing Rotary's annual event to the southern hemisphere for the first time. Oswaldo Aranha, a Brazilian diplomat and past president of the General Assembly of the United Nations, spoke of Rotary as a "denominator of peace." He emphasized that Rotary should use its experience to bring people together and prevent conflict.

São Paulo had the honor of hosting the 1981 convention. Highlights included an appearance by 1979 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mother Teresa and soccer star Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé. The convention returned in São Paulo in 2015, attracting more than 14,800 participants.

Representing Rotary

Members of Brazilian clubs have served as Rotary International Presidents three times. Armando de Arruda Pereira, of the Rotary Club of São Paulo, was first in 1940-41. In his speech to the 1941 convention, Pereira reflected on war and peace: the closure of clubs in war-torn areas, Rotary's tradition of improving friendship all over the world, and the continued importance of promoting understanding and goodwill among people and nations.

Ernesto Imbassahy de Mello, a member of the Rotary Club of Niteroi, held Rotary's highest volunteer position in 1975-76. He was among the Rotarians who welcomed Rotary founder Paul Harris to Rio de Janeiro during Harris' 1936 visit.

The 1990-91 RI President, Paulo V. C. Costa, was a member of the Rotary Club of Santos, São Paulo. Costa made the environment one of his primary causes, creating a Preserve Planet Earth program to encourage Rotary members to undertake environmental initiatives.

People of Action

Brazilian Rotary members have a long history of practicing Rotary's motto, Service Above Self. In 1930, the Brazilian Director of Public Health recognized the Rio de Janeiro club for its work in combating yellow fever. In the 1940s, the Rotary Club of Santos provided orthopedic equipment for more than 20 children and the Belem club contributed $500 towards the completion of a hospital. In the 1980s, members throughout Brazil raised nearly US$4 million for Rotary's ambitious $120 million PolioPlus campaign.

In 2023, 100 years after the Rotary Club of Rio de Janeiro was founded, more than56,000 Rotary members in Brazil continue working to create lasting change in their communities and around the world. Follow Rotary Brasil on Facebook to see their stories of impact.