Toast Masters, Here I Come

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Today, the Memorial Service for my friend, Don Brown, was held. I was honoured to have been asked to speak at the service. I’m not a public speaker though. I don’t mind speaking to two or three people, at informal gatherings, but to stand up in front of a large crowd, my thighs start to shake uncontrollably.

I was kind of hoping that I would be the first to speak. For two reasons – I could get the anxiety over with, and others who are more comfortable speaking in public could come after and do a better job.

But no, I was the last, out of three, to be called to the podium.

Once upon a time, about 9 years ago, I was asked to speak at a conference in Nashville about “The Internet Opportunity,” and I accepted the invitation. I had prepared some notes, but found them to be annoying and ended up just speaking off the cuff and getting the crowd involved in the presentation.

I thought I would do a better job at Don’s service, speaking off the cuff rather than reading from a prepared written speech.

Prior to being called, they had me sitting in a spot at the front, of which the only view I had was of the Chaplain speaking. When I was called, I had psyched myself up, sort of, but as I walked to the podium and looked out, I became totally distracted by the sheer numbers of people that were in attendance. I knew before hand that I likely would be nervous, but I had psyched myself up by focussing on the fact that this was not going to be about me; it was about Don and what Don meant to me.

Although there was a sense of great sadness at the service, everyone in attendance that knew Don also knew that Don would have appreciated some laughter and dry humour. So, I cracked a joke that in my relationship with Don, he’d never seen me wear a suit and tie. And everyone laughed. And I tried to talk about how much Don had meant to me, along with the great times we had, and how priviledged I was to have known him.

Although there were a lot of tears at Don’s service, there was also a lot of laughter as well, as we all recalled good ol’ DAB. He was a character – he’d make you think, tell you “like it is” according to Don, and didn’t worry about being pretentious. But at the same time, he shared his own wisdom, his own awesome sense of very dry humour (to me, anyhow), along with a never ending twinkle in his eye, and showed that he deeply cared about those he liked and loved.
I think I did ok for the first 30 seconds or so, but after that, my brain was working way faster than my mouth, and I knew that I had to end my little tribute – but afterwards, I wished I had a second chance to get back up there and say more of what I had wanted to say.

I also made a mistake of looking directly at some people which really distracted me.

Probably time I joined the local Toast Masters club. I don’t think I really did justice to my memories of Don. And then, neither Don or I were exactly “politically correct” with each other – we could argue, debate, even swear at each other, and we’d laugh together at things that … well.. in public, I wouldn’t be too sure about talking about in mixed company.

But regardless of all that, it was wonderful for me to meet many others who have been touched in some way by Don’s life. A man who’s motto that he lived by was “Nothing Ventured – Nothing Gained,” (a motto I try to apply to my own life but not nearly as successfully as Don).

A high point for me was meeting Don’s son, who lives in Indiana. When I saw his son, I knew immediately that he was Don’s son, even though I had never met or saw pictures of him before. This evening, I had an opportunity to get to know his son better after the service, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to keep in touch.

I ended my tribute, although I’m not sure I was very coherent by that time, by saying that if indeed, there is a heaven, St. Peter is probably manufacturing a crisis right now and inviting Don to help solve the problem. St. Peter would likely confide his deepest thoughts to Don, including his misgivings and his own analysis, waiting for Don to smile, ask, “Well, what’s the problem? Are they gonna sue you or something?” and then put on the coffee and go over every single aspect of the issue to make sure St. Peter has both his ass and all of his bases covered.

I’m going to miss Don, and being able to call him up, knowing I’d hear him laugh and chuckle at some situation I might have gotten myself into, congratulating me for getting myself into it, and then helping me get out of it.

I know that before he got sick, he would read my blog from time to time as well, and would comment on it – not in my comment section, but over the phone or over coffee. He’d chuckle at my words, call me a “shit disturber,” and looked forward to what others had written in reaction. But Don liked some good “shit disturbing” and often we’d even conspire together, to disturb some shit just at the right time and place.

Oh, the stories… I should probably write them down sometime.

Nothing Ventured – Nothing Gained.

I think I should venture some some meetings with Toast Masters now. Don of course, would have laughed at me in a warm way, at my fear of public speaking.

1 thought on “Toast Masters, Here I Come”

  1. If you spoke about him like you wrote about him, stop worrying. You’ve painted a word picture of a man I would have liked to know.

    And he was right — you are a shit disturber!

    Write the stories! Write them one at a time, and then, as you finish each one, put it aside and write the next. Don’t do them in any particular order.
    Once you’ve got them all written, go back and edit them — get some help if you think you need it. Polish them, and go look for a publisher.

    The book will sell. Know why? Because Don was a man worth reading about for those of us who never got a chance to know him. And because you have the ability to paint the word pictures that will introduce him to us.

    Go for it, Ian.

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