My profile of Wallace was titled “A Toast to Possibility.” I interviewed him in the restaurant of the Cherry Bank Hotel over dinner before one of our weekly meetings. I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t AA. It was Toastmasters.
For a year and a half, Wallace and I were both members of Thunderbird TM, “the club with a heart.” I stopped going after I earned my competent communicator designation. Wallace was in it for life. Are you kidding? A chance to tell a joke or two (or three) to a captive audience? He wouldn’t have missed it!
When I called him to arrange our interview, Wallace’s voice on his answering machine quoted Henry Ford: “There isn’t a person anywhere who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can.” That was Wallace, always looking to expand his boundaries. He joined Toastmasters at 75, and at 82 he credited the club with improving his confidence and “adding to the completeness” of his character.
I loved his energetic character, and I found it perfectly complete.
Wallace was hard to get hold of because he was hardly ever home. Five days a week he danced at the James Bay New Horizons Centre, where he was a highly sought-after partner. Dancing with him was a joy I never experienced, but I imagine him as a gentle, slightly awkward Fred Astaire.
A retired bookkeeper who described himself as a language buff, he was also, I suspect, a closeted writer. He kept in touch by letter after LW and I moved away, and he’d always enclose a yellowed newspaper clipping of tips and advice for aspiring writers.
“A lot of old people have answered life’s questions that relate to them, and they’re satisfied with the answers,” Wallace told me. He preferred to keep on questioning. “I think of myself as a student. I still read extensively, and I have a relatively open mind. I have some conclusions, of course, but I’ll listen to almost anything.”
He especially loved to listen to his fellow Toastmasters speak. He offered feedback with great relish and delight. I still have a scrap of paper with his comments on my speech about my grandmother Eva. I showed the group a photograph of Eva, and I acted out her arrival in Saskatchewan from Croatia, wearing her shoes and a second-hand overcoat I had bought for the purpose from Value Village. Wallace wrote:
Wallace Thomas died in August 2014, leaving behind a son and a daughter, two grandchildren and a great-grandson, many friends, his Thunderbird family, and a flock of crestfallen former dance partners.
Dance on, old friend, wherever you may be.