3 Things We Can Learn From The Life Of Ward Treat

Who is Ward Treat? You May Wonder.

Ward was a dear friend of mine, a mentor for 10 years, and as giving as a human being can be.

He suddenly passed away in December 2014. After the initial shock of the news was over, I started thinking about all that he has taught me knowingly and unknowingly. I feel that sharing what I learned from Ward will be the best tribute I can give him. After all, Ward was all about learning, sharing, and giving.

I sure hope that even if you did not know Ward, these short stories of him inspire you to live a life that leaves a long lasting legacy among your loved ones.

Ward TreatI first met Ward Treat in 2004. I was a student trying to get a Toastmasters Club started in our university, and Ward was a retired gentleman and a veteran Toastmaster guiding us in the process.

After 4 months of groundwork, we were successful in creating the club on campus. The first year was great! We had an enthusiastic team of student leaders, continued participation from members, and strong support from the university.

But what we had not thought about was how to keep the membership strong with student members constantly graduating, and leaving the university and / or the city. Within just a couple of years after starting with 20 members, we had come to a point where we had only 3-4 members left. We were on the verge of dissolving a club, and losing all the funding from the university unless we could drastically improve our membership numbers.

That’s when I learned my first lesson from Ward.

1. Step up, and always bring your A game

Out of the 3-4 members that were left in the club,  I was the only one with prior club leadership experience. Knowing that club coaches are there to help, I turned to Ward, and shared with him our problem.

After listening to me, he said,

“The club needs a strong leader. You can achieve anything when you have a vision, and willing to work toward making it happen. Why don’t you become the President, Manasi?”

Who me? President?? Of this dying club???

That’s like accepting a responsibility knowing you are set for failure. No way I was going to do it.

But that resolve did not last long. I had seen how Toastmasters has been helping students including myself. Letting the club dissolve was just not right.

After a promise from Ward that he will help, guide, and coach me every step of the way, I accepted to be the President of this dying club. But I had no idea, what so ever, about how I am going to resurrect it.

The next year for me, was leadership training on steroids. I had the freedom to experiment and make mistakes, but didn’t have the luxury not to learn from those. We had only 12 months to get back on track.

All this time, the only advice Ward gave me was to improve quality.

“Try to do the best you can in everything you do”, he used to say.

So I did! Everything from having fun and educational club meetings, and being organized before and after the meetings, to serving the members’ interests in best possible manner, and bringing the latest technology in the club operations. I strived, and motivated my team to perform the best they can!

Ward did not just advice us to commit to high quality, he demonstrated that through his actions. He showed up for every single meeting, and volunteered for numerous tasks from filling meeting roles to designing and distributing flyers, even when he was not required to do those. He went above and beyond his responsibility as a club coach.

Had it not been for Ward, we would not have survived. In that year we not only achieved the required membership strength but also received the honor of Distinguished Club from Toastmasters International. 

I learned an important lesson in the process. Step up to the plate when you can (in fact, when you should). Do not hesitate to take on impossible projects. If you bring you A game, you will be successful.

With that year’s success, the club always believed that no matter how many members graduate and leave, we can always bring the club back to life. We continued to repeat this pattern in the following years as well.

…and Ward was always there!

2. Lead through service

Learning what constitutes good quality, includes learning best practices. Ward introduced me to many established clubs in Dayton area. I used to visit those with him, and learn through observation. I can never forget countless discussions we had over lunches and dinners after meetings. We would talk, and sometimes even disagree on what works, and what doesn’t.

But what else I observed during this process is how well-respected Ward is in Toastmasters.

He was one of those silent spectators who offered advice only when asked, did not say more than a few sentences in an hour, and never ever chatted his way to influencing others.

In today’s world of extrovert domination, Ward did not fit my definition of charismatic. Yet it did not take me long to notice how influential he is. No matter what questions or problems people had, they always felt comfortable coming to Ward. And sure enough their trust in him was not misplaced. He always had answers. Not just answers, creative solutions.

How did he earn that kind of respect and trust?

One answer:

Volunteering for any responsibility as long as he could be present at the event. No task was too small for him. He truly lived by serving others. If people needed him, he was there – even when they did not realize that they need his help until the last minute.

Ward was the kind of person you could always count on. It is through such dedicated service that he had reached the status of a leader. 

As Susan Cain (a former Toastmaster) points out, many of us are introverts, and even those who are extroverts can stand being less so. For all such people, Ward’s life as a service leader serves as an excellent model for leading and influencing by selflessly and generously helping others.

Toastmasters International also took a note of his 45 years of service to the organization by honoring him with Presidential Citation at Toastmasters’ International Convention in 2007 – an honor only a handful of Toastmasters from around the world receive every year.


3. Welcome life as it comes

If I had known one characteristic of  Ward from all our interactions, it was that he was always prepared. Anyone would think that he must plan everything in advance. But that was not always the case.

Of course, he had to plan and execute his duties in order to preform them well, which he did. But a different side of his personality was always open to new learning, unfamiliar experiences, and unexpected possibilities. He looked at those as opportunities, and said “Yes” to those even if he had never planned for those happening.

Ward was open to new learning:

I remember a talk I gave in Toastmasters on Globalization. Ward had a different view of the topic than I did. But when he heard my speech, and all my reasoning behind it, he willingly changed his mind. Not only that, he promoted for me to present that speech at many other places so that other people understand the concept better.

Ward was open to different experiences: 

I had invited Ward for my wedding in India. Ward was not familiar with Indian food. He was what I had imagined to be the last person to be able to handle crazy driving in India. Yet, he instantly said “Yes!”. Part of it must be his affection for me, but I am sure a part of it was also his willingness to explore a different culture. He mentioned many times that had he not met me, he would have never dreamed of visiting India. But he did! Not only did he visit, he happily lived the culture, the food, and the traffic during his stay.

Ward Treat

Ward was open to unexpected possibilities:

He had worked as a chemist at a company. I met Ward only after his retirement. Then suddenly, he started saying that he had to work. He was serving as an expert witness for a law firm on a topic related to his job as the chemist.

When I was having trouble finding a job long time after graduation, I remember, Ward telling me that he never anticipated doing what he did for the law firm, and that, too, after his retirement.

“When the time is right, a good opportunity will present itself. The break does not matter in the grand scheme of life. What matters is that you are open to saying “Yes” to the right opportunities when time comes.”

His wise words of advice kept me sane in those desperate years of job search. Now, after going through a few more unplanned circumstances in life those words mean even more!

Such was the life of my friend and mentor, Ward Treat. He was not famous or a celebrity. But he touched lives of many. Ward is a great role model for how inspiring of a life a common person – like you and I – can live.

Rest in peace, Ward. You will forever be missed for your generosity, selflessness, and kindness.

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  • Manasi,

    Very inspiring article about your friend. We meet so many people in our life who influences us but never bother to think about them. I really liked the way you wrote about his influence in your life and thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Hi Ashwini! Yes, you are right, that so many people influence us along the way. Unfortunately, many times we do not realize how much they meant to us or affected us until they are gone. Thanks for taking time to read my appreciation for him.

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