Goodbye South African Rose

How do you say “goodbye” to one of the Toastmasters you most admire?

I met Merryl years ago, in the late 90’s, when she joined a somewhat insignificant and struggling club I belonged to, JRA Toastmasters. Within a short time Merryl became the Club President. It was the beginning of what I can best describe as a “tsunami” that hit our club.

 Merryl’s leadership was legendary, she encouraged and got the best out of everyone. The atmosphere at every meeting was “electric”. I have never experienced so much energy and positivity in a club meeting. I was on the club committee in Merryl’s year as President. I can still remember our committee meetings. But, they were not the usual meetings. Most of the time we would meet in each other’s houses, sharing a meal and deepening our friendships. And, yes, also getting the Toastmasters work done!  We were not just Toastmasters, we were a group of friends sharing a common goal. 

At the end of Merryl’s “reign”, JRA, that small, insignificant club, had a huge membership of committed members and was one of the best in the District. Merryl was a tough, demanding, but fair evaluator. I still remember, more than 25 years later, delivering an Interpretative Reading speech. I chose a passage from Quo Vadis, a book by a Polish Nobel Prize winning author with a name few English speakers can correctly pronounce, Henryk Sienkiewicz. Quo Vadis is a book about early Christians in Nero’s Rome. In her evaluation Merryl gently, but firmly, reminded me that Toastmasters’ members are of many faiths and we need to be very aware of that. And, yes, she asked me to repeat the assignment! 

I am grateful to her for that and a few more times she asked me to repeat my assignments. I can only say that I learnt a lot from her feedbacks and became a better speaker. 

Years later Merryl moved to Cape Town and I stayed on in Gauteng. In 2012 I travelled to the Mother City to participate in the finals of the Impromptu speech competition. Merryl arranged for me to stay in the home of one of the Toastmasters and invited me to spend a few hours in her home.

Elton John wrote a beautiful song “Candle in the Wind”. At Princess Diana’s funeral he sang a version of that song “Goodbye England’s Rose”.
May I borrow from that title and say: 
Goodbye Merryl, goodbye South African Rose.

Kazik Blonski

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