Taylor Larimore, My Favorite Teacher.
I Feared PUBLIC SPEAKING – I was shy. In school, even at the university, I could hardly get a word out in class without stammering and blushing. When considering a career I knew that I could never be in sales. I’d be crushed when anyone said no.
Then a remarkable thing happened. I was working at the First National Bank of Miami in the Installment Loan Department, taking night classes from the American Institute of Banking. I was also in night school at the University of Miami inching toward my degree, a few credits at a time.
The A.I.B. courses were given at Miami High School at night with area bank officers, C.P.A.s, attorneys and other professionals teaching classes like accounting, commercial law, negotiable instruments, commercial lending, analyzing financial statements, installment loan operations, public relations, effective speaking, etc. I learned as much from these classes as I did at the University. And they were free.
So I took the class in effective speaking believing that it would teach us to relate to customers in conversation. (What was I thinking?) It turned out to be a class in public speaking. Thought I was gonna die. Or at least withdraw from the class. I told the instructor that I would have to withdraw and he talked me into giving it a try. He promised me that I wouldn’t be embarrassed. Taylor Larimore was his name.
Sure enough, the whole class, under Taylor’s tutelage, learned how to give speeches. I even enjoyed being able, for the first time, to share ideas with groups of strangers.
Taylor always wore a dark suit and red tie. He would stand with his right hand in his jacket pocket, raise his left hand high, and declare, “Seek truth in thought, and the words will surely follow.”
My friend Don Dodson’s dad gave us a ride home after class one night. He said, “Boys, you ought to come to my Toastmaster’s Club meeting.” He explained that it was an educational organization that taught communications skills – particularly public speaking. I accepted his invitation.
That is how I got involved with Toastmasters. I kept on as an active member for over forty years. It was a wonderful experience for me. I learned how to communicate ideas to groups, how to speak contemporaneously, how to organize and present topics. I learned more important things at my Toastmasters Club than I did in college!
I think that Toastmasters was one of the most positive steps I ever took. I believe that virtually everyone I know would benefit from it in life and in work. Warren Buffett, the investor, The Oracle of Omaha, is one of my heroes. He and Bill Gates were on TV the other day and he said that learning how to communicate was one of the most important skills he had. As a young man he had the benefit of taking a Dale Carnegie’s course. He recommended Toastmasters.
Here’s what Toastmaster training did for me – I joined the Coast Guard Reserve in 1958 to avoid being drafted. I had a student draft exemption but no funding to keep on being a full-time student. At that time there was no scholarship money, no student-loan program, no government programs, and no public university where I could get low tuition. The University of Miami literally tossed me out. I couldn’t pay my tuition bill. I was in debt to the university and they wouldn’t let me enroll in classes again until the bill was paid.
There was a recruiting poster on S.W. First Street for the Coast Guard Reserve. Uncle Sam needed me to do six months active duty then seven and a half years of reserve meetings. I was nineteen, just shy of missing the age cut-off, and poor as a mouse. The proposition looked great to me.
I signed up and took a train with some other Florida boys to the Coast Guard’s Basic Training Facility at Cape May, New Jersey on November 12th, 1957.
I started as a Seaman Recruit and was promoted to Seaman Apprentice when I graduated from Cape May. A short time after taking a train home, I got a job, began attending reserve training meetings, got married and took up the usual burdens of the age – mortgage, utility bills, car payments, etc. I always felt poor.
There was a notice circulated at the Coast Guard Drill site. They were offering direct commissions to enlisted men with college degrees. Hey! I had one of those!
I applied for promotion to Ensign. This was the first grade of naval officer, equivalent in rank to a second lieutenant in the army. A few months later I sat before a panel of three strange and stern senior Coast Guard officers who were examining the candidates to decide who would be chosen for the program.
They inquired about every aspect of my service record and civilian circumstances.
I felt confident when they spoke of my superior performance on active duty for training the previous two years when, in Davisville, Rhode Island, I had been the top noncommissioned officer student at the Navy Sea Bee’s four-week Base Recovery Program. “Honor Man” they called it.
Thanks to my Toastmaster’s training I had been serving as an instructor at my reserve unit in Atomic, Biological, and Chemical warfare.
This hard-looking, active-duty Commander looked at me and said with a little sneer, “So Serle. How do you feel about being matched to work along side officers who are Coast Guard Academy graduates and have devoted themselves full-time to the Coast Guard’s missions? You, I see, are a graduate of the University of Miami.” He said this with a frown to let me know what he thought of “Sunshine U.”
I had the courage to look him in the eye and answer, “Sir. I got my education the hard way. I paid every cent of my tuition myself, and I’ll match my education with anybody’s.
In retrospect, that is the main thing I remembered about the process of selection. I surprised myself with the quickness and boldness of my reply. Where the heck had that come from? Before I knew it I was a commissioned officer in the Coast Guard Reserve with a certificate signed by the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States proclaiming:
“Know Ye that reposing special trust and confidence in the patriotism,
valor, fidelity and abilities of
William T. Serle, Jr.
I hereby appoint him an Ensign in the United States Coast Guard Reserve”
F-f-f-f-f-f-f-f- fast forward to 2014 – I’ve been collecting retirement pay and benefits from the Coast Guard for almost 18 years. By this time my Coast Guard retirement has been worth more than 300,000 dollars. Prior to retirement, I enjoyed a great second, parallel Coast Guard career that gifted me with great friends and memories of the Coast Guard as well as a salary. I retired as a Commander. I credit Taylor Larimore for helping me get on a better track.
My fear of public speaking is just a memory. Now Daisy, my wife, says I talk too much!
THANK YOU TAYLOR LARIMORE, MY FAVORITE TEACHER! WE NEED TO TALK SO I CAN SAY THANK YOU AGAIN.