The Theosophical Society in America

Presidents Diary

Printed in the Spring 2014  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Boyd, Tim. "Presidents Diary" Quest  102. 2 (Spring  2014): pg. 74-75

By Tim Boyd

Tim  BoydEvery year I return to my old hometown of New York to spend Thanksgiving with my family. A couple of years ago Lyn Trotman, one of our Eastern regional directors and president of the New York branch, suggested that since I would be in town anyway, I should stop by and speak at the lodge. This was a no-brainer for me. We had a full house and a wonderful social time with good food and good conversation following the talk. During our social time I was informed by members of the lodge's board of directors that I would be scheduled to speak each year on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. It is possible that I could have had some say in the matter, but I think they knew me too well.

As a result, a mini-tradition has been formed. This year again I traveled to New York, and we had the same high-quality time together. For me it is doubly special because my family has gotten into the act. Each year finds my mother, brother, sister, sister-in-law, wife, and daughter front and center. Fortunately, my family is small so that others can also find seats.

At the beginning of December, after we returned from New York and this year's late Thanksgiving, it was time for one of my wife Lily's favorite annual activities  trimming the Olcott Christmas tree. Since we moved out to the TS national headquarters three years ago, the day for trimming the tree has evolved into a joyous community event. Every year Mark Roemmich, head of grounds and maintenance, and his crew set up the twelve-foot-tall tree in our spacious lobby. He brings out the lights and decorations that he has carefully stored from the year before and gets them ready for Lily and her decorating crew. A table is laid out in the lobby filled with Christmas cookies and snacks, largely prepared by various staff members. In the past there have been treats prepared by some of our notable chefs, myself included. Each year my iPod is called into service for its extensive Christmas playlist, and music fills the air. Throughout the morning volunteers and staff put on Santa hats and gather to talk, eat, and hang a few decorations on the tree. Each year Lily has arranged with the Prairie School for the kids to come by and join in. They sing a couple of Christmas songs they have prepared for the occasion—some of them originals. Really, the singing and the time with the kids is the highlight.

On December 8, I attended the service at our local Liberal Catholic Church. I had been invited to give the sermon by Bishop Ruben Cabigting, a longtime friend and an Olcott staff member for more than thirty-three years. It was my first visit to St. Francis LCC. The church used to be in Chicago, but moved to a new building several years ago when the neighborhood declined. The new church is in a lovely brick chapel in Villa Park, Illinois, just a few miles down the road from Olcott. Daniel Provost was the pastor and conducted the service. I was impressed by its power and uplifting quality. I will definitely be back again.

On December 20, we had our Christmas party. About eighty of our staff, volunteers, schoolkids, and teachers all gathered in Nicholson Hall, our dining area, for food, song, stories, games, and good company. In the busyness of each day there is often little time for simple, casual connections. Particularly with our volunteers, we have members who have been coming in to help one, two days or more each week for years. Unless they are working at the reception desk, many of our staff and visitors hardly see them, but they perform important work that in countless subtle ways make the TSA more effective in fulfilling its mission. The Christmas party is one way we have of reconnecting with them.

The food—especially the desserts—were top-quality. So many people made different Christmas sweets that we had to use our whole ping-pong table for desserts only. We were also treated to a musical performance by the Prairie School Players. One of the many talents of longtime staff member Diana Cabigting (Ruben's wife) is that she is a highly trained musician. For the past two years she has been the instrumental music instructor for the kids at the Prairie School. She has put together an excellent string ensemble with viola, violin, and cello players who perform at every opportunity. The Players performed a few Christmas songs, then added the Prairie School Chorus for some sing-alongs. 

Late in the party Santa Claus made an appearance. It seems that every Christmas, on almost every street corner, there is someone wearing a Santa outfit asking for donations or trying to spread some holiday cheer. Some of them are more convincing than others, but on the whole there is more holiday spirit than authenticity. Our Santa is an exception. Few people know that here in the U.S. there is an actual school where the best of the best Santas receive their training. Three years back Mark Roemmich's wife, Kim, knowing her husband inside and out, gave him a gift of the course of training at the Santa school. Mark used his vacation time and took the training from beginning to end. The result was a Santa with such a feeling of realness that kids and parents seek him out all around our area. 

The next day Lily and I were off driving, first to pick up our daughter from college in Ohio, then on to New York for a pre-Christmas moment with family. It was a pre-Christmas moment because on December 23 Lily and I were on the plane headed for India and the TS international convention at Adyar. I may have mentioned in previous diaries that for 125 years the meeting of the General Council of the TS has taken place on Christmas day. Don't ask me why. Some traditions can have a way of surviving long past their usefulness, or even past the time that anyone remembers why it started in the first place. As far as I can tell, this Christmas meeting falls into that category. The General Council is composed of the general secretaries (presidents) of all the national sections. It also has some members who are appointed, as well as the international secretary, treasurer, and vice-president. It is the equivalent of our board of directors. Each year's meeting is brief "four to eight hours" and involves information, discussion, and some actual business. 

The convention was attended by 1100 members this year. Of those, close to 1000 were from India. The program had been fully planned by recently deceased president Radha Burnier. Before she died on October 31, every speaker and time had been scheduled except one. That time was used for a remembrance of her. During the convention I was scheduled to speak on three occasions—one public talk, once in remembrance of Radha, and once as chair of the Theosophical Order of Service meeting. 

Perhaps the main topic circulating around the convention was who would be the next international president. It was a matter of special concern among the General Council members who had the responsibility of making nominations. Initially four candidates emerged C.V.K. Maithreya and Mahendra Singhal, both from India, Ricardo Lindeman from Brazil, and Kim Dieu from France. Since Radha visited the U.S. in 2012, my name has also consistently been mentioned as a possibility. For whatever reason, during and after her visit she made it known that she felt I should consider the position. As flattering as her suggestion was, assuming the international president's role involves a major life change. I did agree to think about it, but felt that it wasn't pressing. I thought there was time. Wrong.

On December 23, when I boarded the plane in New York headed for Adyar, I was still undecided. It was only on December 30, two days before returning to the U.S., that I formally agreed to accept nominations. In the end only two candidates received more than the mandatory twelve nominations—me with fifteen, and Maithreya with fourteen. It creates an odd situation, because the elections for the TSA board and officers will be taking place almost simultaneously, with me as the sole candidate for president. Welcome to the world of the ancient Chinese curse, “May you be born in interesting times.”

Tim Boyd