The Theosophical Society in America

President's Diary

Winter 2011

In my last installment of the diary I covered the hyperactive time period when the Dalai Lama’s visit, the summer convention, and the board of directors meeting all occurred within a little more than one week. In my mind I imagined that the present installment would be a description of the idyllic lull following that storm of activity. I will let you be the judge, but from my point of view there wasn’t much of a letup.

Those of you who read your e-newsletter will know that in the beginning of August my wife Lily organized an all-woman crew composed of Olcott residents Diana Cabigting, Danelys Valcarcel, Angelique Boyd, and Juli Cesano, and volunteers Maryann Barlan, Kathy Arseneau, and Giana Waddell. Beginning early on Saturday morning and continuing until past dark they hacked, dug, and carried away the undergrowth that had encroached on the shrine to Mother Mary located on the Olcott grounds. They were joined by Chris Bolger, Clifton Waddell, and me to do some of the heavier lifting. The result is a beautiful, restful, and sacred space on the grounds. The next time you visit, see for yourself.

After the consecration of the Mother Mary shrine I traveled to this year’s International Theosophy Conference (ITC), which took place in Julian, California, located in the high desert about an hour and a half outside of San Diego. This was the first ITC event I had attended, but it certainly will not be the last. The ITC is a organization open to members of all of the various Theosophical societies (for a brief history of the various groups go to: http://www.theosophical.org/files/about/FamilyTreeTheosophy.pdf). One hundred twenty-seven Theosophists from around the world attended. The main groups represented were the United Lodge of Theosophists (ULT), the Theosophical Society (William Quan Judge), the Point Loma TS, and our organization, the Theosophical Society (Adyar). There were also a number of other Theosophically oriented groups that I came to know about, including a monastic group, the Paracelsian Order, headed by John Drais and Alexandria West with Jerry and April Hejka-Ekins. The uniting feature for all of these disparate, and, at times in their history, inimical groups is their allegiance to and admiration for H. P. Blavatsky.

The days were spent from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. listening to lectures and panels spanning a dizzying array of topics, many of them relating some deep Theosophical concepts to the findings of contemporary science. An outstanding feature of the gathering was the strong sense of fellowship and goodwill among all of us attending. I am quite proud to say that for the first time, the TSA will be hosting the meeting at our Olcott national headquarters. It will take place August 9–12, 2012. Mark it on your calendars.

September 10 was the date for this year’s TheosoFEST. For the past ten years it has kicked off our season of programs and has been one of the highlights of our planning year. Some of you will remember its beginnings as an open house immediately following the summer conventions, which for a number of years were held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. TheosoFEST is intended to be both fun and informative. This year we presented almost fifty talks on subjects spanning a range of topics such as the spiritual life of John Lennon, Buddhist meditation, the Theosophical road to enlightenment, and astrological predictions for 2012. Over forty vendors paid for booths, offering everything from jewelry, massage therapy, and art to Tarot and psychic readings and top-quality vegetarian food.

This year we also added a new feature, the Kids Korner. A group of staff and volunteers developed a space for kids and their parents featuring storytelling, puppetry, face painting, balloons, and refreshments. Judging by the number of thankful parents and happy children, the Kids Korner will be back next year.

Traditionally around a thousand people from the local community turn out for the varied activities the day offers, and this year was no exception. A great deal of planning and work by the staff goes into the day, beginning several months in advance. Every year we meet people who have attended many TheosoFESTs as well as people who are coming for the first time.

In late September I was on the road again, this time to New York City, Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. The trip began in New York, where I relished what I hope will not be a unique experience. I had come to the city to present the proceeds from the Dalai Lama’s visit to the recipient Tibetan organizations—$400,000. Now I am sure that there are people for whom this sort of activity is normal (Ed McMahon comes to mind), but for me it is not every day that I find myself giving away that amount of money. Our friends at the Tibet Fund, who had worked with us every step of the way in contacting the Dalai Lama and in bringing him to Chicago, were happy, not only for the contribution, but for the TSA’s success with the event. It was a proud moment for me to represent the Theosophical Society in America. This contribution will have a far-reaching impact on the Tibetan refugee community.   11-09-19Tibet_Fund_donation 

On behalf of the TS, Tim Boyd, with his wife , Lily (far right), presents a check for the proceeds of the Dalai Lama events to Tibet Fund executive director Robyn Brentano (left) and president Rinchen Darlo (second from right).

 

 TimBLindaJoPym

Long-time friends Tim Boyd and Linda Jo Pym visit in Seattle and recall their first meeting in 1975.
 

The Northwest has long been a hotbed of TS activity, spawning many prominent and influential members. Over the years I have been guided and touched by a number of them–Dora Kunz, Austin Bee, Dorothy and John Abbenhouse, Bing Escudero, and Willamay Pym. While visiting with the Seattle group I got a chance to visit with another “old” friend and coworker–Linda Jo Pym (daughter of Willamay). Linda Jo and I have known each other for thirty-six years and worked together for over twenty of them. We met back in 1975, when a group of us from Chicago traveled out to a Northwest Federation meeting held at the Seattle Lodge. This time, as we sat in her home reminiscing, remembering the great teachers and mentors we had, looking at the TS as we had known it, and thinking about where we were headed, the phone rang. Linda Jo talked briefly, pleasantly surprised by the call, then said, “You will never guess who I am with. I am sitting here with Tim Boyd. Would you like to talk to him?” She handed me the phone, and it was Stephan Hoeller, whose first words were remembering when we had first met—at that same Seattle get-together in 1975. For me and Linda Jo it was a moving bit of synchronicity.

From Seattle and Tacoma, it was on to Portland, Oregon to celebrate the lodge’s one hundredth anniversary. Over forty members showed up for the three-day event, which featured a fascinating visual history of the Portland Lodge by our archivist, Janet Kerschner; a couple of talks by me, and a reminiscence of Harry Van Gelder (brother of Dora Kunz) by members who had known him well. It was a lively and inspiring celebration of the rich history of one of our foremost groups.

   

I close with two festive events back home. On October 2 forty-two staff members, volunteers, and their families turned out for our first-ever staff picnic. The picnic was conceived and organized by Mark Roemmich, head of our grounds and maintenance department, and his wife Kim. Mark had arranged for us to have a spot in a lovely park on the banks of the Fox River. His choice of weather was equally good. For those of you who are familiar with autumn in the Midwest, you know how there are a few days in late September and October that can only be described as “perfect”; when the temperature is warm enough that you can make it in a long-sleeved shirt, the air is clear, and the fall colors are shouting out all around you. This was one of those days. We ate; tossed the football; talked; played a station game created by Quest managing editor Paula Finnegan; had the guys consistently beaten by the girls in bocce ball; and ate some more. The problem with success is that it demands repetition.  So, Mark, we are counting on you.

Finally, on October 12, during lunch break, all of the staff gathered for a baby shower. Erika DeCarlo, our circulation librarian, and her husband, Daryl, are expecting a boy. By the time you read this we will know who made the best guess on the date, time, weight, and length of our newest addition to the family. I look forward to hearing baby cries in the library.

 

Fall 2011

Tim BoydAlthough it came a few days before I officially took office, I consider our Olcott Mother’s Day celebration to be the real start of my time as president. A couple of weeks beforehand, the guys and I had decided that we would do something special, not just for the moms on staff, but for all of the ladies. So on the Friday before Mother’s Day we arranged a special lunch in Nicholson Hall. One of our fellows, James LeFevour, who counts among his many skills a year’s training in a culinary institute, took charge of the meal. We had asked that none of the ladies enter the dining area until noon so that we could prepare. With our inimitable masculine sense of style, we set each table with white tablecloths, flowers, and candles.

When the ladies came down, we were lined up on both sides of the hallway leading to the dining hall. Because that Friday was the day that had been scheduled for planting trees, a number of the guys who had been outside working with Mark Roemmich and the grounds crew had to come in a little early to clean up. All in all it just added to the “manly man” atmosphere. As each lady approached, one of the men would meet her, offer his arm, escort her to her place, and hold the seat for her. Once the ladies were seated, the guys took their food order and served them. With dessert each one received a long-stemmed red rose as a token of our appreciation. It was a fine display of good old-fashioned chivalry, and in the eyes of our female staff the guys could do no wrong–at least for the next week.

While the men on staff never had any idea of a quid pro quo, it was mentioned that Father’s Day was only a month away. Not to be outdone, the ladies of Olcott took the challenge and decided that they were going to take it up a notch for the occasion. On the Friday before Father’s Day the guys were barred from the kitchen area after 10 a.m. When we were finally allowed to enter at noon, it was a sight to behold. As with the men, the hallway leading to the dining hall was flanked on both sides by the ladies, but they all were dressed to the nines. They were wearing feather boas, some had Mardi Gras–type masks, and every one of them looked sensational. As each man approached, one of the ladies would take his arm and escort him to his seat. Some lucky fellows had two ladies escorting them. In celebration of the our “inner boy,” there was a movie playing, The Godfather. There were poster-size pictures on the wall of Ava Gardner, Farrah Fawcett, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and others. Each table had root beer, in the bottle, and popcorn. We were served and eulogized, and we left feeling thoroughly appreciated. My comment during the affair was “I could get used to this.” I was advised that of all my worries as president, getting used to this type of treatment would not be one of them.

Love has been in the air at the Olcott campus, and it has been keeping me busy. In April and again in June we had staff members getting married. Things kicked off with chief of staff Jim Bosco’s wedding. He and Meredith Leary tied the knot in the Olcott library on April 30. They had met the year before at one of the classes that Jim was conducting. When the inevitable became obvious to them, I was honored to be asked to perform the ceremony. On the wedding day, although Jim did cut a dashing figure in his suit, all eyes were on Meredith, who was purely stunning in her very stylish silvery gown. There were plenty of kids and noise and music. It was a glorious affair.

A little over a month later, it was Chris Bolger’s and Juliana Cesano’s turn. Chris heads up our IT department, and Juli handles publicity for the TSA. They met when Juli came to Olcott from Argentina a couple of years ago. Those of you who know Chris and Juli will understand when I say that they are the TSA equivalent of Brad and Angelina—young, vibrant, smart, and over-the-top good-looking. Again I was honored to be asked to perform the wedding. This one was outdoors, and took place at the fire circle, about fifty yards south of the labyrinth. It was a private ceremony with guitar accompaniment. All in all a lovely and spirit-filled occasion.

HHDL_TimBoydA good deal of my time these past few months has been filled with preparations for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s TSA-hosted visit to Chicago. Although there have been enough details for a book, I will share a few of the more interesting points.

Of the many concerns we initially had in planning for His Holiness’s visit, security issues were not high on our list. This was because we were naïve. One month before the date for the visit, two special agents from the State Department and the representative from the Office of Tibet (the equivalent of the Tibetan embassy to the U.S.) met with us in Chicago to do a site assessment. The State Department is charged with the Dalai Lama’s safety when he visits the United States, and I discovered that they take their charge very seriously. Over the course of two days we visited the two venues for the events and the hotel where His Holiness and his entourage would be staying. At each place they examined every step His Holiness would be taking and every area he would be passing through. They did risk assessment and discussed among themselves exactly how they would position their “assets.” They selected public streets that would be closed off and arranged deployment of Chicago police and  university security, timing for security sweeps, and the use of bomb-sniffing dogs. I left the experience happy that I don’t have to look at the world in this way, and thankful that there are people that do.

Sunday, July 17, began with a trip to O’Hare airport to meet His Holiness. One of the donors to the event had arranged for him and his entourage to be flown from Washington, D. C., on a private jet. So the section of the airport where we met was new to me. It is a separate terminal for private flights. In all there were about ten people there to meet him. When the plane landed, we were escorted to the tarmac, where we stood in a reception line at the foot of the plane’s stairway. As the president of the TSA, I was first in line. He looked into each one’s eyes and greeted each of us. He draped us with the ceremonial scarves, then got into an armored black Cadillac and drove off with the convoy of black Suburbans filled with his entourage and State Department special agents. At the Pavilion of the University of Chicago at Illinois, I had the opportunity to introduce the Dalai Lama to 8000 people–a memorable experience.

The next day at Chicago’s Harris Theater, 1600 people gathered for the panel discussion with His Holiness. The night before, we had met with the panelists and moderator Eboo Patel to discuss the direction for the upcoming panel. On our way into the restaurant, Rev. Jesse Jackson saw Rabbi Michael Lerner, one of our panelists and a friend and coworker of his. Rev. Jackson came up to the private room that had been reserved for our meeting and said he would attend the panel the next day. The break between the panel and the Dalai Lama’s private meeting with the 300 TS members who attended, found the Dalai Lama, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and me having lunch together backstage. My daughter, who was seated at the table next to ours, said that for her the whole experience was “surreal.” In her words, “Here I am, an eighteen-year-old, sitting at the table listening to the Dalai Lama and Jesse Jackson talk politics, and my dad and Jesse Jackson fist bumping.”

Dalai_Lama_Honorary_CertificateThe meeting with the members will not soon be forgotten by those who attended. For the first fifteen to twenty minutes the Dalai Lama spoke highly of the Theosophical Society and its purposes, at one point going so far as to say, “I am one of the candidates for a Theosophical Society member.” I am happy to tell you that His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso, is now an Honorary Life Member of the Theosophical Society in America. All in all, it was a good day.