Well, it is 25 years for Pacesetters and I want to say what a great pleasure it has been for me to be a member of this club for over 20 of those years.
But I wasn’t originally a Pacesetter. I started at another club called Centennial TM. I joined because I was to be the MC at a big wedding anniversary party for my parents with hundreds of guests, and knew this was going to be a big challenge.
I got a few speeches under my belt at Centennial, but when we came after a summer break, I found out that the entire club executive had resigned so the club shut down.
I was on the lookout for a new club and Pacesetters is where I ended up, because of Irene and also because it was a friendly, relaxed atmosphere that made it fun to attend.
I had the privilege of being a co-member with Irene Murray, our club founder. Most of you don’t know Irene, so I thought I would let you know what history I know of her.
Irene grew up during the depression in rural south Calgary and I remember a speech she gave talking about the mop of red hair she had as a child. She also told us that the cartoon figure, Betty Boop, was her favourite. She collected Betty Boop memorabilia and brought some in for us to see. She married, had children, and then her husband died when Irene was still a fairly young woman so she became a single mom and had to support herself and her family. She said that to make a better living she had to overcome her shyness and gain some self-confidence so decided that Toastmasters was the vehicle for that.
Irene liked to say she was the first woman Toastmaster in Calgary. In 1966 when she decided to join Bow Valley Toastmasters, it was an all-men’s club. Women were not recognized so she had to register with TMI without disclosing her first name or their sex.
Wasn’t long before Irene had broken down this barrier and founded her own all-women’s club called the Golden Gavel club in 1973.
Irene was very active in TM, becoming a DTM and competing in speech contests at a very high level in both Canada and the US. I remember that on a slow meeting night Irene would bring in audiotapes of some of the speeches that were given at the international contests and would give us tips that we could glean from these speeches.
Irene was the Calgary Toastmaster of the year in 1978.
She became the first female District 42 Governor in 1980. Irene founded over 15 clubs, including one at the Bowden Penitentiary to help rehabilitate the inmates. But Pacesetters was where she spent most of her time since I became a member. Irene eventually founded her own business as a public speaking coach, and for 10 years she coached the Olympic athlete medal winners on their speaking skills among many others.
What I remember most about Irene, was how she could pull a great speech out of her memory banks at the drop of a hat, or respond to any table topic with an outstanding mini-speech. She also was a master of insightful evaluation. Irene could do it all – she has a wonderful gift.
And she really cared about the club, mentoring many members with issues they were having. She fulfilled every executive role in the club and prompted many of our members to get involved in roles outside of the club.
Unfortunately, she has not attended club meetings for the last few years, but we keep her on the roster so she still receives her magazine and our emails. In recent years, Irene’s health has not been good, and when I last talked to her she had been in the hospital for 6 months and was recovering at home. We can be very thankful that Irene founded this club and was so supportive for so many years.
When I started we were in the Health Plus building, jammed into a tiny room. Fortunately, we moved from there to a Christian School where we had a whole classroom. Then we had an opportunity to save some money & move to Midlands United Church which was a great venue. Unfortunately, after a few years, the church had to give the property back to St. Mary’s College.
We stayed a St. Mary’s College until it drained our bank account, and sporting a deficit of over $400 we moved to our present location here at St. Sebastien School.
Let’s talk about people.
I guess I am a slow learner because I have been here so long. And over that time I have seen many; many people go through the club. The club membership has dipped down below 10 so we have had our challenging times. But in recent years membership has been over 20 and is now over 30. I often bump into former members, and we share some fond remembrances of the club. It has been a great help to me, because, unlike many speaking programs that last a few weeks or months, TM is something you can stay with for a long period of time and keep your speaking skills at a pretty high level, so you are never flummoxed if you have to get up and make a speech.
I also have had a lot of pleasure in seeing how many people progress by being a part of Toastmasters, and for some it is life-changing. I know of several former members that changed their careers as a result of being in Pacesetters.
Well, it has been 25 years for Pacesetters, 20 + years with Pacesetters for me, and I think I might stay on for a little while longer. I find that Tuesday evenings are a highlight of my week, and I hope it is the same for you.