Toastmasters around the world mourn the passing of Helen Blanchard, one of the most celebrated and respected Toastmaster of our time. Helen quietly passed away on Saturday May 11, 2013 at 8:15 PM. She will be dearly missed.
Helen was known as the First Lady of Toastmasters, being the first female to join the organization in 1970, even before women were officially allowed to join. She became the first female President of Toastmasters International in 1985. Her considerable accomplishments during her 40+ years in Toastmasters has earned her the nickname as a "Trailblazer". In 2010, her home district, District 5, created the Helen Blanchard "Trailblazer" award, which has been awarded to comparable pioneers such as Joyce Persichilli.
Helen was no stranger to Founder's District and frequently visited conferences and other events. I first met Helen at a District Conference in Garden Grove and was immediately inspired by her story. I read her book and met her again at the Smedley Club's 85th Anniversary party where I had a chance to speak with her about it. I know she never thought of herself as a trailblazer but was just doing what any good Toastmaster would do.
In 2009, Maira Pineda created the "Homer" award, named for Helen Blanchard as the name she used when joining Toastmasters in 1970. This award is given to those in District Leadership service who emulate her ground-breaking, innovative, legacy building spirit. This year I was honored to receive this award for my technical contributions to the Founder's District. Sadly, I did not get the opportunity to tell Helen how much it meant to me. Fortunately, Helen will continue to inspire me even after she is gone.