The club was first called Oxford Toastmasters Club. It received its charter (Charter 3297) in 1961 at the Randolph Hotel, Oxford in the presence of the Mayor of Oxford, Alderman Lionel Harrison and the Toastmasters County Area Governor, Wyn Roberts.
This is a slightly shortened version of the printed history of the club compiled by Sheila Lee as part of the fortieth-anniversary celebrations in 2001. A review of the years 2001 to 2011, written by Andrew Moss, follows.
In the beginning:
The club was first called Oxford Toastmasters Club. It received its charter (Charter 3297) in 1961 at the Randolph Hotel, Oxford in the presence of the Mayor of Oxford, Alderman Lionel Harrison and the Toastmasters County Area Governor, Wyn Roberts.
The elected officers were:
President David Pollicott
Vice President, Education George Tapper
Vice President Administration Alan Gibson
Secretary Joe Jennings
Treasurer Cyril Yates
Sergeant at Arms Arthur Hinkins
There were 25 members.
The club was founded by John Packford, the proprietor of Hunt’s Stationers in Broad Street. He considered Oxford Speakers Club a good training ground for his salesmen, who were obliged to join. The club at this time was for men only.
Meetings were held in the Royal Oxford Hotel. At that time clubs in the UK had only a tenuous link with Toastmasters International via the Toastmasters Council of the British Isles (TCBI) which was located in Scotland. There was no capitation fee to headquarters in the USA and club fees were only a few pounds a year.
TCBI appears to have taken over the ideas of Toastmasters International and its organisation without financial involvement. It was a situation which caused some acrimony. A great deal of debate resulted, and loyalties and principles were stretched to the limit. Sadly, members were lost as a result.
TCBI broke away from Toastmasters and formed the British Association of Speakers Clubs with about 120 clubs, which left Toastmasters with only about 30 clubs in the UK. This led to a serious loss of morale and clubs lost many members. At this stage Oxford Speakers Club – which remained with Toastmasters International – had only seven members.
In its early days the club was truly peripatetic. The reasons were two fold: either the proprietors of venues decided to increase the rent as they felt their organisation was disrupted, or they were without the bonus of serious spending in the bar.
Thus the club moved from the Royal Oxford to the dining room of The Tree public house in Iffley in about 1968, where the club was tolerated for a couple of years until their patience with our disruption of the dining room withered. The club then moved to the Special Function Room of the Westwood Hotel in Iffley in 1971 – the year in which TCBI broke away from Toastmasters International. This move, and the admission of ladies, helped the club to recover from the trauma of the break-up. A lady member, Susan Cowles won the district speech contest which was held in Ireland in 1971.
When the Westwood Hotel was sold in 1980 the club moved to the Linton Lodge Hotel in North Oxford. The amazingly low rent of £3 per session was agreed on the utterly implausible explanation offered by a member who told the management that the low figure would be more than compensated by an increase in bar takings on the Wednesday night of club meetings.
But before long, the hotel, unimpressed by the minimal bar takings, raised the rent from £3 to £35, which resulted in yet another move, this time to the Oxford Union. That came to an end in circumstances to be explained later in this history and other meeting places which followed included the Royal Oak in Woodstock Road and a church hall.
Memories of Members:
This chapter captures some of the stories and memories of the club in the 1980s and 1990s – in which members pay tribute to the contribution Toastmasters has made to their lives.
Andrew Moss (joined Oxford Speakers Club in 1980 and still a member):
The most notorious moment in my long career with Oxford Speakers Club must have been in the early 1980s and the now famous bomb scare incident which resulted in damage to our lectern which still bears the scars.
It was in the days when the club met in the Oxford Union. I was doing a teaching session on public speaking for NHS staff and I had borrowed the lectern, the lighting system and the timepiece that went with them to help with a “table topics” type session.
When I had finished with it at the end of a long day I returned it to the Union building, leaving it upstairs in the corner of a room where I found it. With hindsight I might have told somebody what I had done, but at the time it did not seem necessary.
It was in a period when there was a high emphasis on security in national life, and Enoch Powell was due to speak at the union the following day.
It was then that our box, with the lectern in it, was discovered by one of the Union staff who was unfamiliar with its contents. A cautious glance inside revealed wiring and a clock – and the alarm was raised.
The police were called, arrived swiftly, took one look and ordered the evacuation of the building and put in an emergency call to the Army’s bomb disposal team at Aldershot. The audience for a concert in the main debating chamber were not amused to be thrust into the street, and neither was the Oxford Union, which refunded their money.
Meanwhile with lights flashing and sirens wailing, the bomb squad made their way from Aldershot and examined the package. I have heard it said that by now the clock was ticking. They took no chances but laid a charge against it and blew it up, which is how our lectern comes to have a little bit of wood set into the front where the lights used to be.
John Earnshaw, who was our president that year, rang me up and broke the news to me gently. As each successive stage of the disaster was unveiled it was greeted by cries of “Oh no!” from my end. Mind you, we got more publicity out of it than almost any other public relations initiative in the club’s history.
George Gallagher-Daggitt: “This is your life”:
Another notable evening in our history was when George Gallagher-Daggitt was the unsuspecting victim of a Michael Aspel type presentation when we did a “This is Your Life” event to mark his 25 years as a Toastmaster, with Andrew as Michael Aspel complete with a red book. We revealed many aspects of his life which were unknown to members thanks to inside information from his wife Mary and contributions from senior members.
Memories of members:
Some of my best memories are of the really interesting people who have passed through the club over the years.
Who can forget the extra laid-back Steve Fisher, who was really into “green” things and the environment. I recall his speech on one occasion urging that bottle banks were the wrong answer. We should keep the bottles instead and get them re-filled (just as we used to do with pop bottles).
Then there was the topics session when we were being asked to ‘make excuses’ for various historical disasters. Barry Perkins was cast as the architect of the leaning tower of Pisa. He came to the lectern, leaned over at an angle of about 70 degrees and said: “I can’t see anything wrong with it at all.”
Over the years we had some unusual Christmas parties, which bring back some joyous recollections.
It began when I was asked to TME a pre-Christmas meeting one year and sought to enliven proceedings on the model of a “Hi di Hi” host (for those of you who remember the hit TV comedy sitcom from a holiday camp). A check suit and a big rosette enhanced the image and encouraged appropriate responses from the audience.
From then on it seemed to fall to my lot to co-ordinate a Christmas event at which Toastmasters stepped from their usual guise and did a “turn” which ranged from Mary Aldworth singing an Irish ballad, Roger Summers conducting “Call my Bluff” or “Just a Minute” or distributing some risqué “true life” incidents to read out.
We had one evening on a French theme, including berets and striped jumpers and, memorably, Joe Culkin in a long coat as Inspector Clouseau, “an officer of the lieuw.”
Other notable performances included a Toastmasters Christmas Carol featuring various distinguished members in the roles of Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, and a lady collecting for the poor and destitute “so that Mike Davis (a former club president) can be provided for in his declining years.”
Scrooge declared that just because Santa Anna (the then HQ of TMI) wanted the semi annuals was no excuse to pick a man’s pocket and the visiting spirits had to hasten away (I’ve only got four to six minutes, the red light is on and I can’t go over time like Ken Norman) and in the climax Scrooge promised to attend educational sections in future, use vocal variety and crack jokes.
Then there was Snow White and the Seven Toastmasters which turned into a topics session. Memory does not recall who was cast as Grumpy. And on another occasion we read Eeyore’s birthday from Winnie the Pooh.
A hostile glove puppet named Emu made a celebrated appearance and on another occasion Andrew Moss and John Earnshaw combined in a performance of the music hall song Abdul Abulbul Amir.
My most memorable moment at Oxford Speakers Club was in the early 90s. Rhona Hamilton, who sadly died in 2000, was a fine exponent of the um/ah count and kept accurate count for everyone.
This particular evening she was giving her report in her own inimitable way. For some reason there was no lectern. The TME, Betty Norman had clocked up a good score of ums and ahs and commenting on this Rhona said: “Maybe you were put off because there was no… er… you know… er… rectum!” The whole meeting collapsed in laughter, except Rhona who stood with a bemused look on her face and said: “What did I say?”
Martin Reynolds was one of the great characters and a keen rowing type. He was in his 20s and had an enormous sense of humour. He quickly progressed to being president and the whole club was invigorated with his enthusiasm. When doing his “demonstration” speech for his ATM he chose rowing. Dressed in union jack shorts he sat on the board room table, showing how it should be done.
At that moment the door opened and a senior, smartly dressed hospital consultant stepped in, took one disapproving look, and left. We thought we might be thrown out of the board room for ever. Another memorable demonstration was Rosarie’s bread-making on the same table. Martin left for a job in Hong Kong soon after his presidency.
Another great character was Steve Fisher. In his 20s he was tall, thin with red hair. His trousers were several inches too short, as were his sleeves, and he wore his mother’s hand-knitted fair isle pullovers. He had a remarkable dry wit and his speeches were the funniest I heard at the club. He had the ability to remain totally straight-faced while his audience was convulsed with laughter. We were all convinced he could have become a professional stand up comic, but he chose instead to emigrate to New Zealand.
The club outside the board room
Oxford Speakers Club has always had a well-developed social conscience. The prime mover in this sphere was the long serving and most loyal member Dennis Tyler, who gave unstinting support to speakers clubs in local prisons.
He was instrumental in founding gavel clubs at Springhill open prison near Aylesbury and the nearby Grendon Underwood prison and at Oxford prison, then still in the outdated stone buildings near Oxford Castle.
These clubs proved a great success, as was confirmed by the visit of Joe Garmeson, past national chairman of South African Toastmasters who visited when Dennis was Area Governor of London and South Midlands. Joe reported that he was “deeply impressed by the enthusiasm and excellent spirit of the members and by the friendly participation of staff.” Other club members gave valuable support including Colin Walsh, Betty Norman, Mary Aldworth and Mary Grice.
Fred Law, a past president, also recognised the potential for the club to extend its role in the community. He was a prime mover in a club in Abingdon which was geared to helping people who had suffered breakdowns. Speaking at his Thursday club was quite a daunting experience because half the members would listen while the remainder turned their backs on the speaker and conducted their own animated conversations.
In 1988 the Oxford club decided to start a speakers’ bureau to provide speakers for clubs and organisations and at the same time give members the chance to make hour-long speeches towards their ATM and DTM. This was taken on by Mary Grice, who found the greatest difficulty in persuading people to PAY for speakers as the club was not a charity.
The bureau had one lucky break when a request came from a health hydro near Newbury to provide speakers for their clients’ entertainment. Demand was such that Mary found herself organising two or three a week on a variety of subjects. Although the bureau ceased when the hydro was taken over, there was a silver lining to this cloud: one of the clients was so impressed that he not only joined Oxford Speakers Club himself but also introduced a friend.
A regular feature of club life has been judging school speech contests or “Youth Speaks” events organised by Rotary Clubs. Speech Craft courses were also provided at local colleges by various members including John Earnshaw, Ken Norman, William Horwood and Rosarie Nolan. They provided a useful means of recruiting members.
Inter club activity was a regular feature of club life. Joint meetings were held with other clubs including the Shilleligh Club at Upper Heyford US base and Aylesbury and Thame toastmasters. This continued and developed in Oxford with the foundation of Ridgeway (at Abingdon) and Bardwell (in North Oxford) who met for debates and shared roles at each other’s contests.
Toastmasters’ views of Oxford Speakers Club
Dennis Tyler: reaching out to prisons
The experiment tried out 76 years ago in the YMCA California by Dr Ralph Smedley has certainly worked for Oxford Speakers Club. Many of its achievements also lie like an iceberg beneath the surface.
The Gavel Club at HM Prison Springhill was started in the 1960s and members continued to support it until the early 2000s. The meeting I was able to start at the nearby HM Prison at Grendon Underwood also flourished and made its own contribution to the rehabilitation programme for a specialist group of prisoners with psychiatric problems.
Nearer home I was able to start the “Oxford Castle Club” so that Oxford members could perform a community service on their doorstep. The club ended when Oxford prison closed.
Marina O’Callaghan – Feeling valued:
My first impression as a guest at the club was of the warm welcome I received as I stepped through the large wooden doors of the Radcliffe Infirmary boardroom. I recall being greeted firstly by Sheila Lee and then Simon Wallis, president at the time, and was immediately put at ease by their genuine interest in me. On my second visit I was surprised at how many members remembered my name and where I hailed from.
Although it took a while before I plucked up courage to join, it was really the obvious conclusion to several visits as a guest. I signed up in October 2000 and have not regretted the decision. Where else can you meet such an eclectic mix of people on a level platform?
The club has members from many ethnic backgrounds, professions, ages and interests which can produce a real buzz at meetings. Each speaker has different abilities and the speech topics can be fascinating. I have listened to well-prepared speeches on murder and flying phobias at the same meeting.
I believe the club’s formal programme and structure offers a platform where we, as members, can learn how to communicate a message to an audience. When we make mistakes we know we will be offered advice through a constructive evaluation. Having said that, I still find table topics terrifying!
The club is a wonderful environment where we can learn and also feel valued for our contributions to the meeting. In short, we are among friends. I offer grateful thanks to Paul Holmes for introducing me to Oxford Speakers Club.
(Marina went on to play a leading role in new clubs in the area and achieve Distinguished Toastmaster recognition).
Pushpa Kumbhat – destined for Toastmasters:
I discovered Oxford Speakers Club by accident. When I arrived in Oxford I developed an interest in debating. As with ballroom dancing it was something that had always interested me but never had the opportunity to try it for real. My first port of call was the local library. It was there that I discovered Oxford Speakers Club. I saw that the meetings were at the Radcliffe Infirmary. It was destiny: I was living in the Radcliffe Infirmary.
I turned up at the next meeting. At the time William Horwood was president. I remember being given a very warm welcome by everyone, most notably William, Sheila Lee, Mary Grice and Colin Walsh. An atmosphere of camaraderie infused the Radcliffe boardroom. There was something very exciting about the whole thing, mainly because I had no preconceptions about the nature of the club.
As the meeting progressed I found myself becoming more engrossed in what was happening – namely table topics. I believe this is the most challenging and rewarding part of what the club offers. It is terrifying and exhilarating simultaneously. Whenever I deliver a successful topic speech I am hugely pleased. It feels like a real achievement because it requires rapid structured thought.
Table topics are probably why I joined the club. But my enjoyment of topics remains ambiguous. I still have a deep feeling of dread before I am called to the lectern by the topics master. It’s a great way of testing stress coping mechanisms.
Another aspect of the club that I find striking is how genuinely friendly people are. It creates a “safe” atmosphere for a person to speak publicly. It is made clear that evaluations are for the speakers. I have seldom come across situations that make learning such an enjoyable and personal experience. The listening role of all speakers is emphasised.
A dog’s eye view – by Lance (as told to Colin Walsh):
In 1993 my master went blind and I was born. One was a happy event, the other not quite in the same class. Strangely, he chose to go blind right in the middle of his period as president of the club.
My view is one of travelling all over the place, being expected to sit out in the front with people walking all over me, shaking his hand all the time.On the travel front, we went to many clubs and assisted with setting up the Ridgeway club: and even this one moved at least twice.
My most interesting journey was to your conference in Limerick where for reasons best known to the pilot, I was asked to assist him in landing the plane at Shannon airport. This required me to meet the captain after take off, which was pretty interesting, until we levelled off and I went to sleep – as all good flyers should.
Anyway the captain woke me up and I was taken into the cabin. He then rang his friends at the airport and saying he was coming in to land and would he please have a camera ready waiting by the gate when the plane landed. I was duly woken up as we started to descend through the clouds and asked to look out of the window from the co-pilot’s seat as we landed.
The plane glided in very smoothly, flashbulbs went off, and I was taken back to my master who had to do some speech making at the Limerick conference. Little was I to know that the apparent object of this exercise was the slogan “Even Guide Dogs fly by Ryan Air!” Not that I minded. It gave us a bit of extra publicity.
We’ve seen many events at the club, but overall we would like to say how grateful we are to our fellow members. (Lance is sadly no longer with us, but his place has been taken by the equally patient Jarvis, who accompanies his master to our meetings).
When I first joined Oxford Speakers Club I found myself the member of a unique club. Not a club that wore dashing red coats and announced guests at wedding receptions. The members of Oxford Speakers Club shared not uniform, but the somewhat unusual enjoyment of set speeches, table topics and evaluations. Everyone was most welcoming and particularly helpful to me, a new and very green member.
My husband Mike was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and so began the worst year of my life. Throughout his last year, the one bright spot at the end of a very dark tunnel was the kindness I received from club members. Phone calls, cards, offers of help – all genuinely meant and taken up by me with genuine gratitude.
It was never an intrusion, only the manifestation of true friendship. Believe me, this is not a faceless club. This is a club that cares about its members in good times and in bad. Mike’s death was a devastating blow from which I find it very difficult to recover. I would like to take the opportunity to say that the kindness I have received om my friends as the club has given me the strength to go forward, and for this alone, I will always be grateful.
It was the second word of Toastmasters International that was the start of my career at Oxford Speakers Club.
I was on a business trip to Hong Kong and took the chance to catch up with a Chinese friend I had first met in London. During a tour round the island he told me about Toastmasters. “This is what you need, boy!” he extolled.
And that was it. Without any further sales pitch I asked if I could come to his next meeting. It was in a small room in one of Hong Kong’s office blocks. There was little explanation of what was happening and I was a bit bemused.
However, one of the prepared speeches was about the benefits of Toastmasters. It was as if the speaker had known I was coming. One thing did frighten me throughout the meeting though. The agenda had an item at the end: “comments from guests.” I was terrified. Fortunately time ran out and I was spared.
When I returned home I wrote off to Toastmasters headquarters in California to find my nearest club – something which can be done in seconds now by looking on the web. About six months later I plucked up the courage to make the phone call and go along to Oxford Speakers Club.
Walking into the imposing panelled room at the Radcliffe Infirmary was daunting, but I was made most welcome by the president, Rosarie Nolan, and Mark Carpenter and William Horwood among others. I even remember William’s word for the evening: it was “Communion”. It’s written above the door.
That meeting was unusual in that it was filmed on videotape, with everyone giving a three minute speech and hosted by Andrew Moss. (That was in the early 1990s. It’s high time we did it again). Several meetings later I plucked up the courage to join, and several meetings after that, finally gave my ice breaker.
Many others have extolled the virtues of support and friendship at Oxford Speakers Club, but there is much more to be gained from Toastmasters beyond the twice monthly meetings. I have visited other clubs at home and abroad. It is always good to meet fellow toastmasters and compare notes. We have regular visits from Toastmasters from abroad.
Having been asked to help to start the Ridgeway Speakers Club in Abingdon and Heart of England club in Solihull, I realised the benefits of belonging to two different clubs. I have attended contests at area, division and district levels and I always came away enthused, determined to achieve more.
There are hundreds of other clubs out there, but, in my limited experience, Oxford Speakers Club is the best attended, highest quality club for many a mile. Let’s keep it that way.
A view from the boundary
We have come a long way since I joined Oxford Speakers Club. We are a much bigger club, which brings a welcome diversity of people and talents. We are a better organised club, which means that members, advancing at their own pace, are making recorded progress towards Toastmaster recognition.
We have managed, with a few exceptions, to keep many of our more senior members sufficiently refreshed by the Toastmaster experience to stay on as members and share some of their insights with those making their first steps in public speaking.
We have been blessed with a succession of really delightful and enthusiastic presidents, each of whom has brought to the club their own style and flair.
Oxford Speakers Club never ceases to amaze me. Here we are, a motley bunch of all sorts, each of us here for a different reason and yet fitting together so well that we frequently strike sparks from a meeting agenda which at first sight looks hardly worth leaving home for.
So why do I keep coming back? I think there are five reasons:
Friendships. When you give a speech it exposes your character like nothing else. Somehow that brings us closer together. As we learn more about each other, we come to value each other for what we are.
Learning. It never stops. We gain knowledge from both the practice of speaking and in the observation of others. We learn from the subjects they talk about. We leave every meeting with our minds enlarged.
Challenges. Every task at a meeting sets its own challenges. You can do it averagely well or you can do it really well. I confess that there are times when I leave the lectern and think “I didn’t do that as well as I might have.” This is when you kick yourself and are spurred on to try harder next time.
Delight. The sheer, unadulterated pleasure which comes from watching someone grow in skill and confidence as a speaker. This is perhaps the best incentive of all. There have been countless examples of which our current president (at that time it was Simon Wallis) is but one of the most distinguished.
Pride. Let’s admit it. When it goes well, it does wonders for your ego and your self esteem.
These are the things I like about Oxford Speakers Club. I also like its inclusiveness, its readiness to accept accomplished speakers, hesitant speakers, and terrified speakers and weld them together in a shared and mutually supportive experience. Nobody, it seems to me, is straining for advantage in this environment. There are no put downs, and no hidden agendas.
Being a Toastmaster is a bit like playing cricket. You can make 100 one day and 0 the next. Just when you think you have got public speaking sorted, the newest toastmaster notices all your foibles and failings. A humbling and motivating experience…. see you at the next meeting.
More Memories of Toastmasters:
(from a lunchtime conversation between Andrew Moss, Joe Culkin and Sheila Lee)
Dennis Tyler – one of the great pioneers of social concern for Oxford Speakers Club. He was a Quaker. He could see the life enhancing benefits of the club – particularly for people with low self esteem, perhaps less academically able. He set about establishing clubs in local prisons. As a result of his efforts we established clubs at Spring Hill, at Grendon Underwood and at Oxford Prison. It’s hard to over-estimate the benefits for the prisoners in terms of being able to present themselves in front of an audience, say something coherent, and learn the process of listening carefully and giving feedback, not to mention the opportunities to show leadership. Some of the prisoners, I know, signed up for toastmasters because it extended the period before they got banged up for the night. But many of them surprised themselves and learned life skills which would be of huge benefit when they left.
George Gallagher Daggit. Quite simply, as Joe Culkin puts it, “the most upright, honest, genuine and helpful person we have known.” George was a real leader. He had a passionate belief in the benefits of Toastmasters, which he told us derived from his inadequate performance in making a speech at his wedding. Most people might have shrugged off the embarrassment and contented themselves with a married life with the lovely Mary. But not George. He decided to do something about it. He went out and joined Toastmasters, and then became determined to spread the gospel.
And all that while being involved in the Scout movement and holding down a top job in government service which at one time prompted an MP to ask in Parliament “what is Gallagher Daggitt doing in London?”
With his pioneering haircut – short all over, way before it became the fashion – he was an examplar of the maxim that “to lead is to serve, nothing more or less” and he was always eager to bestow roles on people in order that they should develop their skills. And at the same time he was always ready to wear out his shoe leather to tread the weary streets stuffing leaflets through letters boxes in the search for new members.
Fred Taylor – one of the world’s leading space scientists. Fred was already a leading figure in his field when he joined our club because this modest, quietly spoken man had recognised that he needed skills that were not necessarily part of his make-up. And he revealed to us an unexpected talent for telling sometimes slightly off beat jokes and an enthusiasm for steam railways that breathed new life into the story of the Cholsey to Wallingford line.
We had our share of banking people too. Not too popular these days, but back then your bank manager was a friendly local face. Like Nick Fazackerly who used to manage the Natwest Branch in George Street. Joe Culkin tells the story of how he went into the bank and was having some difficulty in persuading the young lady on the till to hand over the cash to this unknown customer from Swindon – until Nick appeared by chance – a smile and a wave was all it took and the cash was forthcoming in a moment.
Larry Hill, the deputy county secretary with Oxfordshire County Council, who was a leading campaigner for euthanasia. He made many eloquent speeches on the subject and used his speaking skills, learned in toastmasters, to advocate a change in the law in many debating forums. Whether you believe in euthanasia or not, what we saw in Larry Hill was yet another example of a Toastmaster with a care for his fellow men and women.
Steve Fisher, quite the driest, funniest man we ever had at the club, who talked about life in the fast lane when he really meant a return to the simple life. He really did want a world where instead of plastic cartons you took empty bottles back to the shop and got a refund or a refill.
Relaxing times for Toastmasters
Although meetings and contests are the heart of the club, members realise only too well that all work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy. To prevent dullness becoming endemic several extra curricular activities were organised – barbecues and picnics, a summer party at Friars Court, Clanfield and a Christmas party at the same venue which was further enlivened by an entertaining speech contest which was won by a totally unrecognisable Simon Wallis as Dame Edna Everidge. The amazement engendered by his falsetto Australian accent, his dress, long gloves and, of course, handbag made John Willmer (the owner of Friars Court) very grateful that the roof of the orangery was capable of withstanding the gales of laughter and well deserved applause.
In April 1986 the club welcomed guests to the Somerville Spectacular – an evening of home grown mirth and melody. Andrew Moss – the man with a tight grip on his gavel – was Master of Ceremonies. After supper the entertainment included the humorous speech contest and random performances which included Jo Blenkinsop: “The eternal thespian”, David Lindsey and Ian Jones: “The dynamic duo – Thame’s answer to Little and Large and Peter Brown and Elaine Parry as “The mischievous medic and the tantalising temptress”.
At Christmas 1987, with a talented cast of several, Oxford Toastmasters staged a riotous evening of mirth, merriment and music at our “Old Tyme Music Hall where we were privileged to have a rare performance from that elegant artiste Mary Gallagher-Daggitt, songs from Jo and Joy, a sort of song from Andrew and John, a heart rending reading from Peter Brown and a galaxy of genial entertainment mingled with a mountain of munchies of the highest quality.
Christmas entertainment in 1988
The traditional evening of mirth and merriment showed members in a new light. Under the watchful eye of Roger Summers we had some stunning and witty exchanges as Mike Davis, Stan Noakes, Rosarie Nolan and Ken Norman played “just a minute” with party blow outs instead of buzzers and a klaxon horn to sound the end of time.
Things got worse after the break with a libellous adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” which cast Martin Reynolds as Scrooge and Mike Davis as Bob Cratchit. Costumes for the ghosts (Joe Culkin, Margaret Oakey and Donal Nolan) shocked the audience into open mouthed amazement, but it all ended happily ever after. The script, such as it was, was by Andrew Moss and Martin Reynolds – with apologies to C Dickens.
Toastmasters like nothing more than something to celebrate and two occasions stand out in the past 40 years: the silver anniversary in November 1986 and the fortieth anniversary on 24 March 2001.
The silver anniversary dinner was held at the Rose Revived at Standlake and featured the humorous speech contest . For the fortieth anniversary dinner a more formal approach was adopted. We were fortunate to have the use of Hertford College and the menu and the wines – chosen by Colin Walsh – underlined the ruby theme.
Angus Galbraith presented the president, Simon Wallis with the fortieth anniversary ribbon. Simon gave the presidential welcome and introduced George Gallagher-Daggitt who gave an amusing speech with included the presentation of a gavel to Andrew Moss who had won it many years previously – but it had loitered unawarded in a drawer in George’s house ever since. Andrew, who had forgotten all about it, was delighted to receive it at last.
George proposed the toast to Oxford Speakers Club to which Richard Stratford (vice president education) replied. Jo Haskins made a celebratory cake and the club’s future was well-toasted with champagne.
The successes of Oxford Speakers Club
Over the years the club has provided speakers of many talents who have graced both the governing and the speaking contest elements of the Area and the District. These are some of the outstanding successes of our members:
1983 George Gallagher-Daggitt
1988 John Earnshaw
1995 Ken Norman
1978-1981 Dennis Tyler
1988-1989 Ken Norman
District 71 European Liaison Officer
1989-1995 Ken Norman (this office was part of the Continental Council of European Toastmasters, which no longer exists).
The organisation of district conference is, as anyone who has been involved can testify, a monumental task. Oxford Speakers Club has organised three successful conferences.
The first, in1984, was held at St Edmund Hall, Oxford under the leadership of George Gallagher-Daggitt and his committee of Betty Gosnell (later Betty Norman) Elaine Parry, Ian Jones (Thame club) Andrew Moss, Joe Culkin and John Earnshaw.
The club laid on an event which went smoothly, very happily and with great precision. Mention must be made of the terrific part played by the tireless Mary Gallagher-Daggitt who though not a member of Toastmasters was described as “one of the best members we have got.”
The second district conference at Somerville College in 1986 was again led by George Gallagher-Daggitt, aided and abetted by John Earnshaw, then Area Governor. Committee members, their spouses and partners worked tirelessly to ensure the smooth running of a full programme and to welcome and entertain guests.
The programme included the district speech contest which was won by Oxford Speakers Club’s Betty Gosnell with her speech “Sense of direction” thus winning a trip to Nevada to compete in the world championship.
The third conference was organised by Rosarie Nolan, Martin Reynolds and Mary Grice and held at Exeter College, with the speech contest in the Pitt Rivers Museum. We were unable to repeat the successes of previous years, but the joy (and the relief) of a well-run conference was there for all to see. It all contributed to the financial stability of the Oxford club.
Speeches, table topics and evaluations form the core of our meetings. Contests in these disciplines take place at several levels from club upwards and are always fiercely contested. Members of Oxford club who have represented the club successfully and won contests at district level are:
District Topics Contest
1995 William Horwood Dublin, Ireland
District Speech Contest
1977 Susan Cowles Oxford
1986 Betty Gosnell Somerville College, Oxford
District Evaluation Contest
1988 Rosarie Nolan Stowe
1989 Betty Norman Malahide, Co.Dublin
1991 Joe Culkin Kinsale, Co. Cork
1996 William Horwood Gatwick
District Evaluation Contest
1990 Elaine Parry Exeter College, Oxford
District Speech Contest Finalists
1987 Ken Norman Limerick
1988 Ken Norman Stowe
1990 Elaine Parry Exeter College, Oxford
Honours are not solely awarded for contests. Those who give distinguished service to the organisation as a whole in their role as governor or in other ways are also recognised. Oxford members have risen to the task, as these awards show:
Distinguished Toastmaster of the year
1996 John Earnshaw
1998 Rosarie Nolan
District Toasmaster of the year
1984-5 George Gallagher-Daggitt
Area Governor of the year
1992-3 Rosarie Nolan
It is said that businesses never stand still, they either flourish or fail. The same can be said of Toastmasters. To this end members of Oxford club have been active in forming new clubs.
The first to take up the challenge of spreading toastmasters beyond Oxford was Dennis Tyler. Ever tireless, he founded clubs at Oxford prison, Springhill and at Grendon Underwood.
Between 1983 and 1984 George Gallagher-Daggitt founded, or helped to found, clubs in Swindon, Colchester, Maidenhead and Newbury. Between 1983 and 1984 Simon Wallis, Brigid Hurn, Colin Walsh, Ken Norman and others founded the Ridgeway Club which originally met in Milton Park but now meets in Abingdon. In 1996 Rosarie Nolan founded Bardwell Club which meets in North Oxford. All these clubs are still flourishing.
Talents such as these are of enormous value outside the club. There are many examples of successes in the world of business and industry, but perhaps one of the best is that of William Horwood, a best selling author whose books include the Duncton Wood series and highly successful sequels to The Wind in the Willows.
William is a former teacher, charity fund raiser and features editor of the Daily Mail. He became a full time writer in 1980 and is a lifetime Council Member of he Society of Authors. What follows is William’s contribution to this history, recalling his time with Oxford Speakers Club.
The richness of Toastmasters – by William Horwood:
The name of Ralph Smedley, creator of Toastmasters International in the 1920s, ought to be embossed in gold on every speaker’s heart. The system of individual training he created, combined with club development, is little short of genius: it works; it is affordable, and it is self perpetuating. I know. I am a product of his system.
My own involvement with Oxford Speakers Club began in 1990 on a narrowboat on Oxford Canal owned by a member of Oxford Speakers Club where I had dinner with, among others, Martin Reynolds, then president of the club. After the stuffiness of many Oxford functions, it was a revelation to meet someone actively involved in an organisation that did something practical about a really important life skill that was plainly inclusive and good fun.
I was welcomed, I found myself with people I liked, and the speeches offered the usual range of amateur to professional. But all were interesting and well evaluated. At that first meeting I was stunned to hear an evaluation by Mary Grice of a speech I considered to be pretty awful.
Gently, courteously and accurately she analysed the speech in a way that was honest and yet built the speaker up but left him with more to do. Ever since, that evaluation has been the standard against which I have set my own, and which I quote on student courses as an example of how it should be done. When I won the District 71 Evaluation Contest I had Mary and many other skilled members to thank for the training and example they had given me.
In which context I should mention Joe Culkin’s winning of the same contest some two or three years before me. He knows, and will not mind me repeating, that the winning climax to his championship evaluation was the single most enjoyable moment I have ever had as a toastmaster. It is not the joy in doing things yourself, so much as learning to discover joy in others doing, that is one of the great gifts of toastmastering.
My own speaking worked its slow way through the manual and after two years or so I had my CTM and wanted to do more. When it came to doing the ATM speeches I chose to visit other local clubs, sometimes with a fellow club member – partly because our own programme was full, but also to get experience of other clubs and other styles. This is something I recommend others to do: it is good to see your own club from other perspectives.
Eventually I began to go to District 71 events, competing successfully in various of the speech competitions and meeting fellow toastmasters from England and Ireland. Most were, and are, great people: well worth knowing and certainly well worth listening to. Perhaps this has changed, but it goes some way to explain why Toastmasters International has never really gained the popularity in the UK that it deserves and which it has had in the USA for so many decades.
One of the great virtues of any club whose approach is welcoming and inclusive is that it generates fun. On the whole, in the time I have been with the Oxford club, fun has ruled. Occasionally there have been lapses into politics and non-fun, but always, the enjoyable, supportive ethos has re-emerged.
This was my top priority when I was president, and of Harry Clarke, whose services as Vice President Education I was extremely fortunate to have. Naturally we wanted club finances to be sound and membership to go up, rather than down. But most of all we wanted members to come back because they were enjoying themselves – and in this I think we succeeded.
My personal gains have been many, but there are three in particular which come to mind: first, I am a better speaker than I was because I learned to prepare properly and never to forget that I can always improve and always gain something from another’s evaluation.
Second, I discovered that I had a skill in training others to speak which I would not have learned without toastmasters. It has taken me to new places, brought me new friends and it has helped me to change a few lives.
Thirdly toastmasters made me see how a good voluntary organisation should be run, and I have tried to practice its principles since in other organisations. Relph Smedley can rest easy. I sometimes think that every club meeting should start with a genuflection in his direction to remind members that great speaking starts with great individuals. He gave us the means to understand that that is something we can all aspire to.
When Simon Wallis revived Oxwords in 2000, not many members realised or remembered its previous existence in the 1980s. The Oxwords newsletter was produced monthly during the club year and concentrated mainly on club happenings, meetings and contests, together with a bird’s eye view of other clubs’ activities.
But it was not the first communications venture. In 1983 the first issue of Gladstone (the club bulletin) was edited by Rosemary Pellegrini. The editorship passed to Dennis Tyler in 1984 and then in 1985 he became the first editor of Oxwords. Andrew Moss and Joe Culkin took over in 1986, and Andrew Moss and Ken Norman in the following year. Later editors included Martin Reynolds, Ron Sims, Colin Walsh and Harry Clarke.
Other clubs also circulated their news and the Oxford club received publications such as “The Spokesman” (British and Irish District) and “The Orator” from Area 4. The first issue of The Spokesman in 1974 recorded Dennis Tyler as one of the District Officers and in 1977 he was pictured as Area Governor of London and South Midlands. Colin Walsh edited the magazine in 1992-1994.
Oxwords often recorded interesting items of news, but perhaps the announcement in 1988 was the most unusual:
President takes the plunge
Summer wedding for Graham and Margaret
Quite the best piece of news to end 1988 was the announcement that our president Graham Highton and our former treasurer, Margaret Oakey, are to be married in the summer.
As Graham told us at the December party, it was Toastmasters that brought them together and it was at a district conference at Stowe where he lost his heart to the lady with the cheques and the standing order forms.
If Margaret’s efficiency with the club’s cash is anything to go by (and many, many thanks for your stint as treasurer Margaret) we think their married life will be on firm foundations.
Being club president and getting married is going to make it a very busy year for Graham. We know he will carry it off with the understanding and support of a charming fellow toastmaster. We look forward to hearing reports of the wedding speeches. Our warmest congratulations to you both. (From Oxwords 1989. Editor Martin Reynolds).
And then in October 1990 Oxwords revealed the best kept secret in the club’s recent history: Ken Norman and Betty Gosnell had married in September.
The newsletter provided an excellent record of club activities and struck a note of enthusiasm which reflected the lively atmosphere. In May 1988 Joe Culkin reported on the District Conference at Stowe, hosted by Thame Speakers Club.
It had been attended by about 200 toastmasters and reached its climax at the formal dinner and awards presentation. “To say that Oxford Speakers Club had a successful conference would bean understatement” he writes. “We had a magnificent conference.”
The club won the shield for the most points under the club management plan, Rosarie Nolan won the district evaluation contest and Mary Grice and Ken Norman received plaques for their all-round ability in the last 12 months.
Oxwords also had a good record of picking up references to Toastmasters in the daily papers and on radio. Thus in 1971 when Radio 4 told of Toastmasters International receiving a trophy from the engravers inscribed “Toastmakers International” Dennis Tyler reminded members of a coach turning up at the club’s previous headquarters in Iffley Road labelled “Postmasters International.”
Another incident was a report on the front page of the Oxford Mail which described Colin Walsh as “out of time and lost for words.” The story behind the headline was that Colin missed his chance of winning a speech contest because the organisers forgot he was blind and did not give an audible warning he was going over time.
The contest was table topics at Abingdon Guildhall but the only warning he got was someone shouting “Colin, the red light is on” and despite his excellent story about being shot by men on horseback while he was stuck in an Ethiopian jail, he was disqualified. The sad tale had an unexpected outcome: the story was picked up in the Daily Telegraph and went round the world – including a paper in New Zealand. Excellent publicity for the club.
Later Oxford Speakers Club members were frequent broadcasters on BBC Radio Oxford including Colin Walsh (and his dog Lance) Sheila Lee, Andrew Moss and Marina O’Callaghan.
The years of change:
The first decade of the new century brought major changes to Oxford Speakers Club.
Where once the club had been – with some notable exceptions – mostly male, mostly from the professional and business community and mostly English and over 30, in the twenty first century it was transformed into a young and excitingly international organisation.
There were two catalysts for this welcome and invigorating development. The first was the club’s decision to make a determined effort to recruit from the city’s student population. The second was the arrival of universal access to the internet.
In the early 2000s at the suggestion of some of our younger members, we took a stand at the annual university “Fresher’s Fair” which was thronged by thousands of hopeful newcomers to student life in Oxford. It gave us an opportunity to explain what we do to a new generation who could already see the value of gaining skills in public speaking and leadership to equip them for the demands of university education and their first steps in the job market.
The outcome was a succession of very able, quick-thinking, fast-learning and above all energetic members who showed not only a willingness but a positive eagerness to take on leadership roles and to harness technology to promote the club still further.
Thus it was that we launched our own website, thanks largely to the enterprise of Camille Koppen, a Chinese student with Dutch ancestry, who joined the club and quickly became a successful vice president, education. Others have since developed the site and it has been a turning point in terms of raising awareness of the existence of a club with so much to offer, if only people knew where to find us.
Where once potential members had to fight not just personal anxieties before joining Toastmasters but also the de-motivating experience of having to make a diligent and persistent search to find a club, now a simple internet search reveals all you need to know in an instant.
The first years – and the launch of new clubs:
In the early years of the century the club was particularly distinguished by the contribution it made to the development of Toastmasters on a wider canvas. Simon Wallis, president of Oxford in 2000-2001, was Division Governor in 2001-2002. Sheila Lee followed in 2002-2003, and both gave outstanding service in the roles.
The new club at Bicester was in its infancy and Paul Holmes and Marina O’Callaghan, with support from Sheila Lee played a significant part in establishing it on a firm basis. Later both Marina and Paul stepped aside from their commitments at Oxford to devote their attention to the new club.
Around the same Simon Wallis aided by Colin Jack and other members was launching Heart of England, a new club at Solihull and Martyn Tilson and the Bardwell Club set Spa Speakers at Leamington Spa on its way.
Oxford meanwhile maintained its quality which featured a rich blend of members including John Willmer, a genial farmer from Clanfield who had an anecdote for every occasion, Rosemary Howlett, whose unique style offered new insights into animal husbandry and never failed to interest an amuse us. We also enjoyed the adventures of Russ Hawkswell, whose RAF career included jumping out of aeroplanes and whose skill in engraving created the badges which many members still wear. Annie Anderson – as she was then – was another to break the bonds of strict adherence to the Toasmasters manual to bring us speeches of great variety and on occasion to introduce dance and drama to her performances.
Annie is now a leading member of the Ridgeway Club in Abingdon and – to everyone’s delight – married to John Morley who has immediately embraced Toasmasters and become part of our family.
Our president in 2001-2 was Richard Stratford, one of the members whose development as a speaker was testimony to the transformational powers of Toastmasters. He began hesitantly, even eccentrically, and progressed to being an assured and confident speaker. Unfortunately he left half way through the year, but in his place we enjoyed the leadership of Pushpa Khumbat, the elegant physiotherapist who worked (and lived) at the Radcliffe Infirmary and was a persuasive speaker who presided with style, charm and skill.
She was followed in 2002-3 by one of the outstanding Toastmasters of the decade in the Oxford area. Diminutive in stature but a giant in inspirational leadership, Marina O’Callaghan became president at a critical time for the club and set it on course for a thriving future. She has an enviable talent for encouraging members to stretch their talents to new levels or take on new duties with the result that everyone gained and grew and a happy atmosphere prevailed which was beautifully captured by Sheila Lee in a speech when Marina left the Oxford club which described a series of “Magic Marina Moments.”
Marina left to concentrate her efforts on Bicester (her local club) and in the further development of other clubs and her achievements were later recognised by her achievement of the Distinguished Toastmaster Award – the highest accolade in Toastmasters.
Among the membership at this time were Bob Ely, a modest and quiet man who often surprised us by the ingenuity of his speeches and the diversity of his topics sessions, and Bruce Mullett, at one time our secretary and an enthusiastic member until his growing family demanded more of his time.
We also enjoyed the contribution of Nicholas Stephens, a businessman from Banbury, a committed Vice President, Education who often gave us informative and lively speeches, and the returning Neil Pakenham-Walsh, who had been president in 1998 but had been unable to attend for a few years but returned at the end of the decade with renewed vigour. Xioanan Sun, a student from nearby Somerville College was briefly one of our most lively members and the elusive Thomas Weissensteiner, who was an amusing and different speaker, but all too often found other commitments prevented attendance.
Gavin Allinson, who rowed at Henley, was our treasurer for a while and could always be relied on to provide entertaining and amusing speeches, as could Martyn Howden who was with us as often as his work – which involved site management on projects across the country – allowed.
Rising stars – and veterans:
David Cook, a man of tumultuous energy despite advancing years became president in 2003-4. Never short of a word, he thrived on unrehearsed speeches and seldom used notes – except perhaps in one memorable speech where he produced documents and receipts from every pocket as he told the story of his triumphant battle to persuade a vacuum cleaner company to honour its promise of a free trip to the United States to purchasers of their product. David and his wife Audrey chose Oxford College of Further Education for the annual dinner which proved an excellent venue for an intimate and informal occasion.
One of the rising stars of the new generation of members became president the year after. Matthews Mtumbuka came to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar from Malawi and recognised in Oxford Speakers Club an opportunity for personal development and a chance to serve.
He advanced in speaking skills at a sensational speed and by the time we chose him as president he had gained the respect and admiration of us all. Matthews led the club with amiable good humour and patience and was much missed when he left to join the Shell organisation. He liked to tell us – as so many Toastmasters have done before and since – that when he was asked to deliver a presentation or to make an impromptu speech during the interview process, his Toastmasters experience proved invaluable.
Having been appointed to his first job, there were two potential postings – one to Cape Town the other to Aberdeen. Guess what? It was Aberdeen. Matthews is now back in Malawi, but still in touch with the club via email.
By contrast the club turned to its longest-serving member, Andrew Moss, for the 2005-6 year. It was a long overdue honour for Andrew, who had previously evaded the role by disappearing during the cricket season. The style was easy-going and relaxed, but within a few weeks of the start of his presidential year half of the all-male committee had – for perfectly legitimate reasons – moved on.
The first pantomime:
But we caught our breath and enjoyed a successful and innovative year which encompassed our first venture into pantomime. This was the idea of that fount of unusual ideas, Colin Walsh, who booked a medieval theatre in Abingdon and more or less told us we had to put on a performance.
And so we did. Our Cinderella was not likely to win any awards, but it was fun and we all enjoyed it hugely with a cast which included Russ Hawkswell, Sheila Lee and Andrew Moss. It set the pattern for future Christmas seasons and has become a Toastmasters tradition, thanks largely to Colin’s enthusiasm.
One of the newcomers to emerge to prominence during this period was our next president, Wen Shi. A high powered researcher into cancer, Wen Shi already had a distinguished student career behind him having studied in China and America and like Matthews before him, he absorbed all the lessons of Toastmasters and gave it back in leadership and encouragement to others.
Leaving the Infirmary
It was during his period of office that it became clear to us that after more than 20 years at the Radcliffe Infirmary, it really was going to close and our happy relationship with the hospital was to end in December 2006. Where could we go – and how much could we afford? These were vexed questions as the committee members explored various suggestions. At the last minute, we ended up in court.
But before the move we enjoyed one last special meeting in the magnificent Infirmary boardroom where our meetings had been overseen by a portrait of Dr John Radcliffe and the gilded names of benefactors. Many of our former members returned for the occasion and we entertained ourselves with a kind of “Call my Bluff” event where three members described the characteristics of the wine we were all drinking and we had to guess who was telling the truth. It made for a joyous evening.
A new home – in court:
By January 2007, thanks to help from Oxford City Council, we were established in the old court room in Oxford Town Hall, an imposing wood panelled room where the prisoner dock, with its steps leading down to the cells and the jury box, press box and the raised area where the red gowned judges once presided are all still intact. It makes for a certain formality at meetings and is restrictive on movement around the room, but overall the move has been a great success.
The central location in a well-known building has helped to attract new members. We have become accustomed to the complexities of the court room setting and we remain in a building of undeniable class.
Wen Shi left to start a new career in the United States and our new president in 2007 was Richard Grant, a genial and amusing speaker (we all remember him cutting up his loyalty cards with the warning that they reveal too much about us) he gave Oxford Speakers Club a year of light-hearted, friendly leadership which helped us to settle in easily to our new venue.
Among the members we welcomed at that time was Nicky Lobaton, a conservation officer from the Ashmolean Museum. Before long Richard and Nicky were “an item”, and in 2010 they announced their engagement.
In 2008 Paul Ovington, a project manager by profession, became president and brought yet another new style to our club. Probably the most organised, clear thinking, committed leader we have had in recent years, he was able to add to Oxford’s already distinguished history by making sure we fulfilled all our objectives and recorded maximum points in the tasks set by Toastmasters International each year.
Paul was later to gain Distinguished Toastmaster status, an award for exceptional performance both as an individual and on behalf of Toastmasters in general.
Michelle Reid, our next president, brought astonishing energy, variety and excitement to the club. Famous for her dynamic speeches, delivered on occasion from on top of the bench rather than behind it, she was also an enthusiastic leader and encourager, and revelled in writing, directing and acting in the now annual Christmas pantomime.
The jubilee year:
And so to our jubilee year, with Mary Robson, a distinguished local dentist, as our president. Mary joined Toastmasters when she found herself challenged to speak at professional gatherings and has become an able and thoughtful speaker. She has been able to bring the best out of other members by a warm personal style which stems from her own experience as a once diffident speaker who has been helped to a new confidence by Oxford Speakers Club.
In March 2011, at the end of six months of planning led by a committee formed by Simon Wallis, the club staged a superb celebration dinner to mark 50 years since it was founded by the boss of a stationery company. Guests included the Lord Mayor of Oxford, Councillor John Goddard, and Teresa Dukes, District Governor for Toastmasters in Great Britain and Ireland.
Andrew Moss, whose memories of Oxford Speakers Club go back for 30 of its 50 years, delivered the main speech to recall the history of the club and some of the people who have helped to build it.
As he concluded his speech, he reminded members that those early pioneers would find Oxford Speakers Club unrecognisable today. And without doubt the young and enthusiastic members who lead the club now would take it to even greater heights.
The new generation:
We are fortunate to have some outstanding talents taking leadership roles in the club. We have already mentioned Michelle Reid, president in 2009-10, but we should also mention Rosemarie Lee, a diligent Vice President Education in 2010 and president in 2011, Carlos Gimeno, an accomplished speaker and evaluator, who took on the role of Vice President Education in 2011, Alex Erler, whose mild-mannered and witty speeches often delighted members as did his careful management of our funds as treasurer, and Gorka Berzal a lively and entertaining speaker and club secretary.
As we look back on the decade it is also worth recording the contribution of members who did not always hold a leadership role in the club, but who nonetheless contributed a great deal to its success.
Several times in these notes we have mentioned Colin Walsh. It is with deep sadness that we have to report his sudden death at the end of September 2011 on the eve of a fund raising dinner he had helped to organise.Very few people have given as much to Toastmasters as Colin. Nothing daunted him, and his ability to coax, cajole or just command his fellow members to undertake duties or try new ideas was unrivalled. When the Oxford club began to burst at the seams Colin had the answer: “Let’s form a new club.” And Isis Club was born.
When our meetings lapsed into a predictable pattern Colin had a warm-up routine of such originality that it shook up the whole proceedings. And he probably only thought of it on the way up the stairs. If there was an excuse for a dinner, a punting trip, a picnic or a change of venue for a one-off meeting, Colin was the one who thought of it first.
And that was quite apart from his talents as a speaker with an encyclopaedic knowledge of history and languages, or his stringent evaluations which pulled no punches even for the newest member’s ice breaker. His contribution to Oxford, Ridgeway, Isis and other clubs was huge. When you add to the achievement the fact that this was the decade in which he lost his sight it becomes an Everest among foothills.
Simon Wallis has been probably the most faithful, the most reliable and the most committed of our members throughout the period. His wisdom and guidance are often sought and his instinct for doing things right and his consideration for all the membership have made him invaluable.
Simon’s speeches are always worth listening to. He doesn’t step up to the lectern unless he’s got something to say. The style is quiet (evaluators often ask for more volume) but the delivery is confident, eloquent and measured. Simon himself would tell you that it was not always like that. When he first joined the club he was a little nervous. Toastmasters has been good for Simon, and he has been good for us. He has returned so much in service, leadership and encouragement and has been a tower of strength not just to Oxford but to Ridgeway and Bardwell.
Another giant of the decade was Paul Holmes, whose re-assuring presence at meetings was always a guarantee that we would be challenged to perform well in any role we undertook. Paul was the Toastmaster we turned to most for advice. He was the one who guided us in our speeches or evaluations and who helped us to stretch ourselves to do even better next time. He was also a thrilling speaker himself, with a superb presence which gave force to speeches which always had value and carried an inspirational message. His work for Toastmasters International went far wider than local club involvement and he richly deserved his Distinguished Toastmaster award.
There’s one other member we should single out for special mention who has made a major contribution throughout the decade: Sheila Lee. We have already mentioned her service as Division and Area Governor. Sheila is one of the small group who have been members throughout the decade and her commitment to Toastmasters and the achievement of the club’s purpose in helping people to enhance their speaking and leadership skills has been an example to all.
It takes effort and not a little courage to make your way from Great Coxwell to Oxford twice a month, especially on dark winter nights, but Sheila did it for years on end. A stickler for things being done properly, she has always made a valued contribution to meetings as a speaker, evaluator, judge or toastmaster of the evening.
At the end of 50 years there is much to look back on with pride. By sharing the learning process with one another and supporting members to achieve personal goals in speaking and leadership, we have been able to send out hundreds of men and women into the world equipped to meet its challenges and ready to play a full part in their community.
We have supported the formation of thriving new clubs. We have contributed to Toastmasters International as an organisation by taking on leadership roles at area, division and district level.
And as members we have enjoyed the journey. And we still do.
1959 John Packford – founder
1960 David Pollicott – Charter President
The precise dates of presidents from 1961 to 1970 are lost, but we do know that the following were presidents at some time during the decade, though the actual year of their office is uncertain:
George A Tapper
1970 – 1980:
1970 Dennis Tyler
1971 George Gallagher-Daggitt
1972 Keith Richards
1973 Jim Lawler/Keith Lewis
1974 Richard Pineo
1975 Eddie Cane
1976 Brian Cooper
1977 Fred Law
1978 Paul Stuck
1979 Larry Hill
1980 David Howe/George Gallagher-Daggitt
1981 – 1990:
1981 John Jenkins
1982 Mike Davis
1983 Joe Culkin
1984 George Gallagher-Daggitt
1985 John Earnshaw
1986 Barry Perkins
1987 Betty Norman
1988 John Burstow
1989 Graham Highton
1990 Martin Reynolds
1991 – 2000:
1991 Rosarie Nolan
1992 Pam Matfield
1993 Ken Norman
1994 Colin Walsh
1995 Brigid Hurn
1996 William Horwood
1997 Harry Clark
1998 Neil Pakenham Walsh
1999 Sheila Lee
2000 Simon Wallis
2001-02 Richard Stratford / Pushpa Kumbhat
2002-03 Marina O’Callaghan
2003-04 David Cook
2004-05 Matthews Mtumbuka
2005-06 Andrew Moss
2006-07 Wen Shi
2007-08 Richard Grant
2008-09 Paul Ovington
2009-10 Michelle Reid
2010-11 Mary Robson
2011-12 Rosemarie Lee/Michelle Reid
2012-13 Simon Mitchell
2013-14 Alexandru Mereacre