Notable Members


A Flashback To  The Early Rotary Years

In discussing the leaders of the Birmingham Rotary Club, several past presidents of the early years were important to the initial development of our organization. The first president of Birmingham’s Rotary Club was Harry B. Wheelock (discussed earlier). Without Harry Wheelock’s vision there is a good chance that this organization would not have developed so quickly and successfully.

John E. Shelby served as this club’s second president. He was an owner of Cable, Burton, Shelby Piano Company. He was known as the “Evangel of Rotary” triggered by his involvement in founding many civic clubs across the South.

J.D. Moore followed in 1915-1916 as our leader. He was head of the Moore- Handley Hardware Company and initiated regular visits to other southern Rotary Clubs by our members.

Previously discussed, J. Frank Rushton followed J.D. Moore in 1916-1917as president. He was widely beloved in the community in a period during which the country was entering World War One.

The leader of Birmingham’s Rotary Club in 1917-1918 was V. J. Nesbit, an attorney. Mr. Nesbit helped organize local support of our community during  World War One. Ed H. Andrews, a general agent of Union Central Life Insurance Company, served our local club in 1918-1919. It was during Andrew’s term that we developed a working relationship with both the Boy Scouts and the Boys’ Club.

Finally in 1919-1920, a man well known in Birmingham’s history, Morris Bush, served as president of our local club. At the time he was president of Hammond Iron Works.

During the year the National Convention of the Kiwanis Club was celebrating events in Birmingham (with Rotary helping), Rotary provided a successful barbeque for the members of Kiwanis. All seven Rotary Club members mentioned above were important to Rotary’s early development and success.



A well-known (at one time) author and actor, Octavus Roy Cohen was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1891. He received his early education at Porter  Military  Academy, now Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, and then Clemson University (Clemson Agricultural College).

Cohen moved to Birmingham, Alabama in his early 20s where he pursued a career in  the steel and railroad industry, but soon changed careers after recognizing that he had special writing talents and skills. He worked as a writer for several newspapers including the Birmingham Ledger. By 1912 Cohen  had  moved  back  to  Charleston and began clerking for  his father’s firm in the city. He was admitted to the South Carolina bar and practiced law for a short period of time.

In the early 1920s Cohen moved back to our city where he joined Rotary; however his real club allegiance was given to a group of Birmingham selective and prominent writers with the club moniker, "The Loafers Club." The highly respected group began meeting Wednesday nights, usually at Cohen’s house on Seventeenth Avenue, where they worked on plots for their stories. Never more than twelve members (the membership limit),  they  participated  and  were successful in authoring many stories that were often sold to publishing companies and magazine publications, one of which was The Saturday Evening Post. The members often worked together on story lines, making changes especially if the story had been rejected by the magazine companies. Local writers Petterson Marzoni, Dr. Charles Nice and Edgar Valentine Smith were also members of The Loafers Club.

Octavus Roy Cohen became the most renowned writer in the group, although Petterson Marzoni had a large following. Cohen published  over  50  books and stories  for  stage, radio and film.

One popular character in many of Cohen’s books was the “Beau Brummell of Birmingham”. Other popular figures developed by Cohen were Florian Slappey and Detective Jim Hanvey. One of Cohen’s most popular works was  The  Crimson  Alibi.  He  also  was  the head of the Department of Contemporary Literature at Birmingham Southern College. Very versatile, Octavus Roy Cohen also acted in three motion pictures. His wife, Inez Lopez, also    was a writer. They were a very talented and successful couple. There is no indication what years or for how long Roy Cohen was a member of our Rotary Club; however it is known that he moved to Los Angeles in 1935 to work on various scripts for movies. Cohen died in Los Angeles in 1959, long after the demise of his beloved Loafers Club.


1926 - 1979

W. Thornton “Speedy” Estes

It is probably ill-defined to address any of Rotary’s past presidents as “leaders of a certain decade.” Most, if not all of them, served our club for several decades, not just for one.

For example our leader in 1926-1927 was W. Thornton “Speedy” Estes, who served this club for decades and was recognized in 1975-1976 as Birmingham Rotary’s “oldest living” past president. Thornton Estes died in 1979. In the same year that Estes was honored as our club’s oldest living president, Ben B. Brown, Vice-President of South Central Bell, headed our organization as our leader. During his year a drive was made to make all of our past presidents Paul Harris Fellows. The first past-president that year to be recognized in the process was Thornton Estes.

The Rotary Club

Nationally Prominent Rotarians

Every Rotary Club lays claim to having in its membership ranks prominent men and women from the community. Those that serve the  local  clubs  are  often the leaders in the community. It should be of interest that we recognize some of those in the past who were on the national Rotary scene that have  served Rotary as either a member or as an honorary member. Some of those you may not expect.

The past associated members, honorary members and those with a special interest in Rotary include: German novelist Thomas Mann, United States poet James Whitcomb Riley, Admiral Richard E. Byrd (artic explorer), U.S. President Warren G. Harding, U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, Earl Warren (Chief Justice of  the Supreme Court), Adlai Stevenson (U.S. ambassador and governor), Associate Supreme Court Justice  William  O.  Douglas,  Sam  Walton  (founder  of  Wal- Mart), J.C. Penny (founder of the department store), Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. (Walgreen  Drugs),  Cornelius  “Connie  Mack”  McGillicuddy  (U.S.  baseball player), Harland  Sanders  (Kentucky  Fried  Chicken),  Dr.  Charles  H.  Mayo  (Mayo Clinic), Orville Wright (aviation pioneer), Clarence Birdseye (Birdseye Foods), Norman Vincent Peale (minister and lecturer), Pearl S. Buck and Sir Winston Churchill.

Other prominent Rotarians include: Neil  Armstrong,  Frank  Borman,  British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Walt Disney, Senator J. William Fulbright, Sir Edmund Hillary, General “Black Jack” Pershing, President Woodrow Wilson and many more. Forgive me for those that were  left  off  the  list;  but  take this to heart, as a member of Rotary, you are, for the most part, in good company.

Donations To Rotary

President's Room

Over the years many past and present members of Rotary have given donations and gifts to our club. Among those members who possessed the giving spirit was Frank Spain, who had served as President of Rotary International. In addition to monetary gifts, Spain gave Rotary his collection of Bibles which he had collected over the years. The Bibles were placed in the President’s Room at the Harbert Center.

Our other member serving as President of Rotary International, Roy Hickman, gave a more diverse group of items from his personal collection of gifts. From a listing mentioned in the pamphlet, Ninety Years of ‘’Service Above Self,’’ prepared by Rotary President William E. Hull and Mary Alice Carmichael in 2003, we are reminded of the generosity of all our members. Roy Hickman provided a set of longhorns given by the Houston Rotary Club, a number of dolls (provided by Dorothy Hickman) representing different nations of the world, and a “crucifix made of sticks – from a very small place in Nepal.” The Hickmans had traveled to those places as representatives of Rotary. Also given by the Hickmans was “a very fine magnum of Chateau Margaux Wine” given to them from four Rotary Clubs in Bordeaux, France. These items are displayed in the Rotary office at the Harbert Center, which also includes Hickman’s personal photograph of the Pope (with the Hickman’s). It was said that the Pope spoke to his guest and said to him, “Mr. Hickman, Rotary, through its Rotary Foundation, does more to bring world peace than anything outside the church.”

When in the “Museum of Rotary”, also take note of the Swedish glass on the Board Room table, given by Rotary District 138, Kalmar, Sweden. “It is carved and drilled from the inside and shows a polar bear swimming in the sea.” We are grateful for the artifacts which are housed in our Past President's Room.