What does an outstanding Toastmaster look like? 

Ms. Welch speaks during the Bartlesville Toastmaster Club 70th anniversary celebration, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, March 2012.

When I heard news about Hilary’s passing, the first thought that came to my mind was: “no doubt, it is a prank”. Perhaps another devilish tall tale designed by THAT outrageous mind. Surely, she was hiding in a convent, spending time with the nuns, playing the organ, living the frugal life and waiting a few days before re-appearing into the world. “TA DA….! JUST KIDDING!”, she would surely say. But, my friends, I was wrong.

I then faced one troublesome prospect: how on earth to make sense of the passing of a brilliant and kind lady? How to explain to myself and then to others that the young and promising can leave us before we leave them?

I found solace in remembering some of Hillary’s teachings and her compassionate ways. Toastmaster Hilary opened the door -for us in the Bartlesville Club- to the world of Shakespeare, Socrates, the French Revolution, Guy Fawkes, Marcus Aurelius, Hildegard of Bingen, Goethe, Thich Nhat Hanh, Wittgenstein and so many others. Hilary shared  -with countless Toastmasters- her love for ideas, historical characters, philosophy, literature, music, books and movies. She was passionate when she talked about The “Princess Bride” movie, “V for Vendetta”, “Wall-E’, Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and that wonderful movie of a tall tale character, larger, much larger than life: “Big Fish”.

Hilary was an intrepid English teacher, always ready to explain with precision a particular grammatical use. With Hilary, I learned numerous new words -“intrepid”, was one of them. She was the perennial word-of-the-day person in the Bartlesville Toastmaster Club, always ready to offer an intriguing word anytime members ran out of ideas. With Hilary , I learned about music and musical instruments. One day, she showed up with a guitar to the Toastmaster meeting, only to explain in her prepared speech the process that goes into learning music. She was a talented musician and a music teacher herself, cherished by her pupils.

When no other Toastmaster offered to participate during the 2013 Fall’s Club Speech Contest, she volunteered to give a humorous speech and thus became the only contestant. Did she actually need to win another speech contest? Of course not. Did she actually wanted fame and applause? Not really, she had plenty of that. She did it to keep the show going. She did it to demonstrate to the new members and the less experienced Toastmasters what a speech contest was all about. “Spontaneous acts of generosity, random acts of selflessness” she used to say. And she lived by those words.

Hilary strikes me as a character bigger than life, a Big Fish, so to say. Her passing appears to leave a huge, black void. Yet, the reality is that our minds and hearts were deeply touched by Hilary’s exemplary life. Her teachings and acts of kindness live on as we celebrate her life. And that, my friends, is the opposite of a black hole *

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