By Ralph Hood
As mentioned often in this column, I was a professional speaker for several decades. I was proud to be a journeyman in the trade, but was never one of the great stars.
I knew the great stars, though, and several were my very good friends. Three of them come to mind often.
Robert Henry was my first speaking mentor. He was perhaps the funniest speaker in Alabama at the time and one of the funniest in the country. He took the time and effort to encourage me to become a professional, and helped me greatly along the way.
I’ll never forget Robert’s last speech. It was for the convention of the National Speakers Association, and Robert was a very sick man. His speech, though, was absolutely wonderful. Those of us who loved him—and many did—were at the point of tears when he finished. I visited him at home soon after.
Robert died shortly thereafter, but is still missed by all who remember him.
Rosita Perez was another great speaker and a delightful friend. Of Cuban descent, she wore a flower in her hair, played the guitar, sang, and spoke. She was wonderful—on or off stage—and a joyous person. Everyone loved Rosita.
I visited Rosita at her home shortly before her death.
Then there was Bryan Townsend. Bryan was first and foremost a Christian, and also a great husband, father, and friend. He started and taught a Sunday school class for men. The class grew so fast that it actually built a new building for the church.
Almost secondarily, Bryan was a truly great speaker. I was his mentor at first, but he quickly surpassed me in every way.
We remained great friends. I remember the night when I was speaking in Virginia and Bryan’s daughter called to tell me, just before my speech, that Bryan had suffered a stroke and might not live.
Bryan did not live, and professional speakers from all over the country attended his funeral, along with many of his fellow church members and local friends.
These three people had a great influence over those who heard them speak. All of them wrote books, and I’d bet they’re still being read today.
Henry, Rosita, and Bryan were great speakers in addition to being exceptional people. I was one of the many who loved them, and delight in remembering them to this day.