This month the world lost a wise soul. A copywriter, an architect, and a speaker you couldn’t help but want to listen to. His name is John Rollow.
Think of an Albus Dumbledore, or a Gandalf, or even Abbé Faria from The Count of Monte Cristo. John had one of the most memorable voices I had ever encountered—resonant and full of wisdom. If asked to describe what a college professor should be, he’s exactly who I’d describe.
John was a longtime member of my Toastmasters club and someone who I had a tremendous amount of respect for. I learned so much from him. One of his best qualities was that he was straight up with you, yet simultaneously compassionate. He’d hit you with a lead pipe but he’d always wrap it with a pillow.
As a beneficiary of several of his speech evaluations, I can explain the feeling like this: you knew there were no ulterior motives scratching beneath his words; he wanted the best for you and he told you exactly what you needed to hear. I'm lucky to have known him.
As part of my tribute to John, here is a partial list of things I’ll keep in my memory sack:
He evaluated my very first speech (known as an Ice Breaker in Toastmasters) and actually evaluated four out of my first ten speeches. Each evaluation he offered something entirely new that I could improve on. I was either terrible or he was very observant—probably both. At any rate, you could tell he paid attention and put thought into his words. It showed.
Evaluation finesse is especially important for Ice Breakers (very first speech given by a new speaker in Toastmasters) because this is when people are confronting the fear of public speaking for the first time.
Even the slightest hint of “harsh” can stack the odds against that person ever returning. That’s a loss for everyone involved. John was a master at ensuring that people came back to Toastmasters to try again, myself included.
Wise, Wise, Wise...
He was the essence of what wisdom means to me. Obviously I'd listen when his words were directed to me; however, I’d also listen to his evaluations of other speakers as well. As mentioned, he understood finesse but at the same time did not mince words about what the speaker could have done better. It always felt like John had an endless supply of perspective, a testament to his enormous amount of experience.
Don't Do The "Mr. Burns"
I learned never to do the "Mr. Burns" hand gesture around John. To ensure I got the message, he took the pillow off the lead pipe. He realized it was known as a “power” gesture, but he explained that it was as if I were talking down (arrogant) to the audience. He was adamant, and I never used it again.
Les Browne In The Flesh
We got to see Les Browne speak live! I was glad to have shared that experience with John since it was the one and only time I saw Les Browne speak in person. Pretty neato.
Master Of Words
He had a passion for words and was baffled by the extent that language had changed throughout his lifetime. He taught me that a “scum bag” at one point meant a used condom, and “awful” meant the opposite of what it means today (full of AWE instead of terrible).
I'm sure you can tell he had a sense of humor, too. He did. He could make you laugh and had no shortage of laughter himself. John could have been cast as the Dos Equis XX “Most Interesting Man In The World” commercials.
John confided in me that he was writing a Marketing and Branding book. I offered to help him through the publishing process once he finished the manuscript. To my knowledge, it didn’t reach that point. Knowing John, the book would have been rampant with value.
I’m sad to say that he taught me another lesson in his passing: time is finite. We don’t have full control over our lives, and we simply don’t know when our time will be up. There are certain events that have the power to change the life of another human being. This is one of them for me.
The World Will Miss Him
Last night I spoke with a friend for almost an hour about John. We talked about the many memories we shared on this planet with him. Both the good and the even good-er.
He was funny. He had class. He made you feel comfortable. You couldn’t be in the same room with him and not learn something new, there was just too much knowledge and experience packed into that man.
Many people will miss him. Our club will miss him. And I'll damn well miss him, too. Thank you for your friendship John.
About This Guy
Howdy! My name is Matt Kramer and I used to suffer excruciating death when speaking in front of a group, now I LOVE it. Overcoming this fear has changed my life and it can change yours, too. My focus is to help you overcome the fear of public speaking so you can build the confidence to go after what you want in life.