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HISTORY

Victoria Toastmasters Club Charter Certificate
(The original charter certificate granted by Toastmasters International to Victoria Toastmasters Club in 1958.)

The following description of the Victoria Toastmasters Club's history was written sometime around year 2000 by Louis Thomas, one of the first members of the Club. Louis also served as Club President from October 1st, 1961 to March 31st, 1962 (when each term used to be just 6 months), and is an Honorary Member of Victoria Toastmasters Club.

Our History - By Louis Thomas

I suppose the history of our club is structured by people, meeting venues and major activities. It is therefore along these lines that I will do my best to recall the early days although I should first explain how I found my way into the Club. I remember very clearly crossing Queen’s Road outside the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building in 1957 and being hailed by John Payne who invited me to tea. Before long I was sitting in the old Gloucester Hotel in Pedder Street at a meeting of the Hong Kong Toastmasters Club. At that time we had not been formed although I’m sure that Arthur Gomes, who is still in town and was then a member of HKTM and their committee were seriously contemplating extending activities to another club. Alas I can’t remember many of the people present then, but I do remember being very impressed with the high calibre and formality of the proceedings and feeling some trepidation that I might be asked to join, or make a speech or in some way get involved. To tell the truth I was scared out of my mind!

Well, I didn’t join. I went home to England for nine months and almost forgot about the whole thing. However, soon after returning from what was then known as "long-leave", I was invited to a meeting of a newly formed Victoria Toastmaster Club held in the Mandarin Hotel. In those days by the way this hotel was very new and quite posh. Again I was impressed by the dignity and formality of the proceedings, in particular what seemed to me the impeccable Presidency of Dr Ray Gamby and his programme of speakers that evening. To my good fortune an application to join was thrust into my hand and the rest is history!!

Venue

This has been the most persistent of the problems facing the club through the years. The first venue was the beautiful and Victorian Gloucester Hotel, in Pedder Street, which is more eloquently written about in Hong Kong’s history than I could manage. Alas land development overtook the grand old lady and the very new Victoria Toastmasters’ Club was invited to the hotel groups’ brand spanking new premises, the Mandarin. The quality of this meeting place can never be doubted, as you will see shortly in John Mcleod’s memoirs. In those days a good number of the members would retire after meetings to the Chinnery Bar for further analysis of the meeting and of course a beer or two. Alas we did not match up to the Mandarin’s high cash flow requirements, they certainly didn’t include the Chinnery in their calculations, and we were asked to meet elsewhere.

There followed short stays in various places and I shall have to do some more research on this although I can remember that we had a spell in Club Lucitano, I think thanks to Moises Bernardo, see below. There was another location related to a central club but it escapes my mind for the moment. The next long term meeting venue was the Officers’ Mess of the Royal Hong Kong Defence Force, which housed the the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the Royal Hong Kong Regiment (The Volunteers) and the Royal Hong Kong Auxilliary Airforce. It was most central, being in Beaconsfield House and we were only required to leave one year before the hand-over when these historic bodies were required to disband. Our tenancy commenced sometime between 1975 and 1979 which puts us as rent-free occupants for over 20 years. I think it appropriate that we acknowledge here our debt to the Volunteers for their part in our durability!

Next came the Social Service Building called Windsor House in Hennessy Road. I didn’t go there very often due to other pressures and will therefore have to leave that part of history to someone else. The same will have to apply to subsequent venue history. I remember of spell in the Chartered Bank training facility and ofcourse the present venue which perhaps can also be left to a later scribe. Regretfully, as with John Mcleod, (see below) Hong Kong’s busy life have intervened!

Ray Gamby (1.4.58 – 30.9.58)

[Missing]

John Mcleod (1.10.58 – 31.3.59)

For this section I am summarising a portrait prepared by Syed Hasan (1.7.72 – 31.12.72) the entirety of which is available to the Club but is not all entirely relevant here.

John was born in Scotland and came to Hong Kong as a child in 1919 thereafter spending the next fourteen years in school first at the old Victoria School at Caroline Hill in Causeway Bay (where the Government Electrical and Mechanical Workshops now stand) and then at the Central British School on Nathan Road which today houses the Tsimshatsui Kaifong Association, the old building between St Andrew’s Church and Observatory Path. His greatest pleasure at the time was in music and had happy memories as a choir boy with St John’s Cathedral in the late 1920’s. In 1932 when his father retired the family returned to Scotland and after a period of acclimatisation John met and married his wife. They had hopes of settling down and raising a own family but, around this time one Adolf Hitler started making himself heard in Germany. "It is not known whether he had the aid of Toastmasters International or not but his powers of oratory were never in doubt and in achieving audience participation he was a master", John says. John volunteered for the Army, to avoid the infantry as he disliked walking, and finished up in the Royal Engineers as a ‘sapper’. It was during this time that he became an instructor and had his baptism at the rostrum, thereby acquiring a taste for talking. His speeches were about war topics rather than table topics and his over-riding purpose was to make sure that every soldier understood what he was being taught so that this would help to save his life and the lives of his comrades in the future. This was particularly true in the Royal Engineers when handling explosives, which they tended to do more than most soldiers. He felt that this strength of purpose to ensure understanding in those grave days influenced his later-in-life approach to Toastmasters. John arrived back in Hong Kong in 1946 and stayed for 25 years before retiring.

He was a founder member of the Club having transferred from the Hong Kong Toastmasters Club immediately upon joining in 1958 and was our first A.V.P and second President. In recognition of his outstanding service, leadership and inspiration he was elected as the first Honarary Member of the Club sometime in 1972.

Apart from the satisfaction of feeling that he may have been of some infinitesimal assistance to the new-comer ("as an ‘Uncle Charlie’ perhaps?") his happiest memories were the evenings spent with good companions in The Chinnery Bar (of the Mandarin Hotel). This happened after the weekly meetings when the beer and conversation flowed freely and evaluation was "unanimously in favour of the motion that the objective had been achieved". One one such occasion he remarked that he had been raised in the wonderful atmosphere of international harmony in Hong Kong and had enjoyed the company of men of many races and different creeds. This concept he thought was epitomised in the Victoria Toastmaster Club and his association with it he considered one of his greatest fortunes. He often mentioned that international society would be immensely happier if this spirit of genuine international harmony, so much part of our daily lives in Hong Kong could be transplanted all over the world.

Past Members Still Around in Hong Kong and Other parts of the World

This will be somewhat of a hodge podge, off the top of my head but I think it will be fuel for further history writing progress in the future.

Arthur Gomes who was the first Educational Vice President in 1958 is still in Hong Kong, with the American Chamber of Commerce. Arthur I’m sure was a member of the Hong Kong Toastmasters Club but transferred over with John Mcleod to help the new baby. Arthur is in good health and still speaks highly of his days with the VTM.

Frank Goldberg from Holland was a close friend of mine whom I met outside of the VTM. He made it to E.V.P. but was then so busy when he transferred from a Dutch Bank to the Dairy Farm that he was unable to sustain his membership. Frank now lives in Spain and is retired. He last visited Hong Kong about 6 years ago.

Lachu Khemlyani (1.4.61 – 30.9.61) was President of the Club immediately before me and was instrumental in ensuring that I took the job of President for which I didn’t really consider myself qualified at the time. Lachu is a long standing friend of myself and family. I was present and his wedding (I’m not saying how many years) ago and very recently I attended the wedding of his daughter.

Ishwar Mahtaney (1.10.64 - 31.3.65) ran an import business in Hong Kong for many years, and was well known for his cricket prowess, having played for the Indian Recreation Club and the Hong Kong Cricket club for many years. He was also a mean Squash player and regularly used to beat the writer in the squash courts known as the Army Barracks courts, but which are now the public courts run by the Government. Ishwar is now retired in India and in regular contact with his friends in Hong Kong. He was last here a month ago and asked me to pass on this message.

"You younger members are lucky to be on the Toastmasters trail in this new Millenium since new and better skills in communication will constantly be needed and this organisation is the best provider of those skills."

There are many more contributors to the history of Hong Kong and I pledge to ensure that I will research with them to provide more information for this history. The club has had its problems in the past, such as shrinking membership, lack of commitment to assignments, venue and in the early years a confusion of the Club with a place to learn English. In future additions to this work I’d like to tell you about the Toastmaster week we organised in the seventies, the Cantonese Toastmasters that never really had a chance in those days but would have been a great success today and many more gems of the past that I’m sure we will all enjoy.


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