“Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot.”
D. H. LAWRENCE, English Writer
On Monday we celebrate the birthday of one of history’s greatest emissaries and apostles for peace and justice. Martin Luther King Jr. is all of that, for sure.
My column on Monday will focus on issues of race and civil rights as they relate to Easton and its history
Today, though, I write of public speaking – and, of course, when we think of Rev. King, if there is something of an image short-hand that describes the man, that image for so many of us is him standing behind the microphone on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, delivering amongst the most beautiful, most poetic, most stirring, and most important speeches of all time.
MLK was an orator for the ages.
I am a student and sometime humble practitioner of public speaking. I also write speeches.
I enjoy watching and listening to good speakers.
Public speaking is difficult. As well, sure, there are people who have natural talents that support their effectiveness as public speakers. But, definitely, even those who are downright terrible in their early efforts in speaking in front of people, can work hard and become very good at it.
Indeed, as Ralph Waldo Emerson commented, "All the great speakers were bad speakers at first."
Through my years in Easton, I have been fortunate to watch and listen to excellent speakers, and hear strong speeches.
When my father was an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, he roomed with quarterback, Bob Williams, who would co-captain the ND football team, and Marty O’Connor, who would co-captain the ND basketball team.
In that my dad roomed with Williams, he got to know the great Notre Dame football coach, Frank Leahy. Leahy was a powerful speaker; he had a vast and powerful vocabulary. He heard that my dad wanted to be a teacher and coach, and he advised my father that if he were to succeed in these professions, he needed to practice and become skilled as a public speaker.
My dad listened to and acted on Coach Leahy’s advice. My dad practiced public speaking. My dad became a skilled public speaker.
Paul Smith was one of the best speakers I have known. Mr. Smith was busy giving his time to various caused in town – and he often had occasion to speak. He was a founder of the Football Booster’s Club.
And he was just wonderful at speaking. Funny, eloquent, smart, with a deep and sonorous voice, he engaged a crowd and kept it engaged. Oh, how he could get you laughing. Mr. Smith served as the MC for many events in Easton.
Paul Smith lived a long and productive life, passing away in 2006 at the age of 89.
A note here – deep and strong and sonorous voices are not “yelling” voices. The former is powerful and resonant, the latter is grating and clashes with the ear drum.
Excellent public speaking is also not all about booming oratory. Oftentimes, it is delivered in a steady, matter of fact cadence, at a decibel level that is not that high above normal conversational talking.
Like the speech that Hazel Varella delivered in the auditorium of the Easton Junior High School in the late 1970s. It was very impressive. Indeed, my dad talked about how deeply he admired the speech.
And, yet, it was not so much a speech, as it was a presentation of facts and the laying out of an argument. Mrs. Varella, the OA history department chair, did this in front of an audience that was largely opposed to the decision she was defending in her presentation.
A quick background here – Mrs. Varella had recommended the removal of a teacher, who was popular and had support (indeed, I liked the guy a lot). But Mrs. Varella had decided he was not doing the job he should be. Her actions resulted in a public hearing and forum on the matter.
In the public hearing/forum, Mrs. Varella, in the manner of a skilled teacher, educating, and making a case, calmly, without notes, made her case masterfully. It was really good. Mrs. Varella has also delivered many other excellent speeches and talks in Easton.
John Keach could speak. As I have written of Mr. Keach before, he was a “civic fixture in Easton for 40 years.” A quintessential, and highly successful, small town lawyer, he gave immensely of himself.
Mr. Keach was erudite, had a strong voice, and was eloquent; he had a commanding presence.
John Keach was only 68 when he died in June 2007 from a ruptured brain aneurysm. He remains vivid in so many people’s minds – in no small part because of his speaking abilities, and that presence.
Yes, those sonorous, strong voices – I envy them.
Leo McEvoy has that strong voice – which he can make even borderline thunderous. Mr. McEvoy graduated from OA in 1952. He is a member of the Oliver Ames High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Mr. McEvoy, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, served on the Easton School Committee for many years, and has been busy civically in other areas in our community. He has a keen mind, and can be straight-forward and no nonsense. And he gets his point across – and is heard.
It is memorable, those civic meetings, and suddenly the voice of Leo McEvoy, would split the air, with a line like, “Mr. Moderator! … Mr. Moderator!” or “Point of Order! … Point of Order!”
Leo Harlow, former selectman and Easton native, has one of those stentorian voices. He is also smart and learned.
Mr. Harlow is a lector at , and speaks at events in town. Yes, he got that boom in his voice, and the ability of inflection, and voice moderation, that captivates listeners.
On the subject of public speaking, the 2012 presidential campaign is underway.
When Lyndon Johnson was campaigning in 1964 for the presidency, he would promote his campaign speeches, yelling out to crowds, “C’mon down to the speakin’ tonight!”
Yeah, we got us some public speeches and some speakin’ ahead of us.
I hope much of it is good – and from much of it we learn something.