The 2018 English-Speaking Union Annual Conference, hosted by the ESU New Orleans Branch, drew members from all over the country to the Wyndham Garden Baronne Plaza Hotel for an enjoyable and productive weekend November 17-19, 2018. The conference, under the theme "Setting English in Action for a New Century" focused on plans for the upcoming centennial of the organization in 2020 and continued to refine the strategies to take the ESU into its second century of excellence promoting the English language as a catalyst for global understanding and good will.
Business sessions included a meeting of the National Board of Directors and a Conclave of the National Board and Branch Presidents on Saturday, November 17. Regional meetings and a workshop on the ESU National Shakespeare Competition and Teachers Learning Abroad (TLab) programs preceded the official 2018 English-Speaking Union Annual General Meeting on Sunday, November 18, 2018.
The meeting of the ESU National Board on Saturday, November 17, proceeded in an executive session to finalize the leadership transition in the wake of Chris Broadwell's departure from the ESU. The Board expressed gratitude for his years of service, which contributed to the future of our organization, and wished him well in his future pursuits. In a short open session, the Board heard an update on the ESU fundraising activities by Development Director Rossana Ivanova.
The traditional National Board and Branch Presidents' Conclave in the afternoon on Saturday, November 17, was open to all member delegates who heard a presentation by ESU consultant Rev. Renee LiaBraaten on her six-month feasibility study for a centennial fundraising campaign leading to 2020. Renee LiaBraaten summarized the input she had received during her many conversations with ESU members and Branch leaders and stressed on the need for the National Headquarters, the National Board and the Branch leadership and membership of the ESU to work together on charting a course for the future. She recommended a series of measures to provide more support to the Branches and to assure our members that they are a valued part of the future of the ESU. Renee LiaBraaten responded to numerous questions from the audience about the study and her recommendations.
Carol Losos, Education Director, updated the gathering on new initiatives in the ESU Teachers Learning Abroad (TLab) and National Shakespeare Competition programs. A lively Q&A session underscored the commitment of the membership and Branch leadership to the ESU charitable education programs and the need, mentioned earlier by Renee LiaBraaten, for better communication and collaboration between the National HQ and the Branches.
Grant Hamel, ESU Operations Manager, answered questions about Branch governance, administration, financial reporting, and membership.
Dr. Paul Beresford-Hill CBE, KSt.J, Chairman of The English-Speaking Union of the United States, welcomed the 98th Annual General Meeting on the afternoon of Sunday, November18 summarizing the deliberations of the ESU Board of Directors the previous day and expressing the Board's confidence that as it enters into its second century the ESU will reach a new level of distinction in promoting global understanding and good will through the English language.
The meeting comprised reports of the Vice Chairman; President, Dr. E. Quinn Peeper; and Treasurer, Laura Phelps. The delegates also heard reports by Carol Losos, Education Director, on ESU's programmatic achievements over the previous year; Ed Mohylowski, ESU Deputy Director, on membership, branch activities, governance and administration, and Rossana Ivanova, Development Director, on the organization's fundraising activities during the previous twelve months as well as plans for the upcoming ESUUS Centennial in 2020.
Also during the Annual General Meeting, the membership unanimously voted to elect to the Board of Directors, as recommended by the Nominating Committee, Janet Vanderpool Haedicke, Monroe, LA. The membership also voted to re-elect to a second or third term Cheryl Albuquerque, Palo Alto, CA; Jacques Brunswick, New York, NY; Duncan Karcher, New York, NY; Bettie Miller, Chapman, AL; Julia Van de Water, Lexington, VA; James W. Kerr JR, Dallas, TX; Donald Best, Los Angeles, CA; Karen Blair-Brand, State College, PA; William B. Maschmeier, Seattle, WA; and Jeffrey L. Schnabel, Kansas City, MO.
Newly-elected Board member, Janet Vanderpool Haedicke of Monroe, LA, earned her BA at Hollins College, her MA at Northeastern Louisiana University, and her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University. She currently serves as Professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where she has taught since 1974. She also served as a Media Analyst at Ogilvy and Mather Advertising in New York. She has sat on the boards of numerous arts, education, and civic institutions including, most recently, the Louisiana State Museum and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. She has received numerous awards for her civic work including a citation as the City of Monroe's Distinguished Citizen, inclusion among the "Most Influential Women of the Delta," Honorary Chair of the March of Dimes, and selection for the Women's Leadership Conference, U.S. Senate. She is widely published and is an active presenter of her research on Tennessee Williams and other celebrated American writers.
In his closing remarks, Dr. Beresford-Hill thanked the ESU membership and Board for their commitment and generosity to the organization and reaffirmed a vision for the English-Speaking Union as a premier national education charity and membership organization in its second century of greatness. Dr. Beresford-Hill praised the ESU staff for their dedication and excellent work and commended Deputy Executive Director Ed Mohylowski for this successful conference.
The conference weekend offered a series of wonderful social events that brought our members closer together and reinforced the ESU's goal to foster relationships and inspire common bonds – person to person.
Unquestionably the highlight of the weekend was the spectacular Gala "Rach and Bach" concert on Saturday evening, November 17, at the Orpheum Theater presented by the ESU New Orleans Branch, which served as a benefit for the Branch. Key sponsors of "Rach and Bach" were Mr. and Mrs. James J. Coleman, Jr. CBE; Michael D. Harold and E. Quinn Peeper, MD; Baptist Community Ministries; Hancock Inside New Orleans; Whitney Bank; Best Clinical Trials and the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society. The Gala's honoree was James J. "Jimmy" Coleman Jr., CBE, Honorary British Consul for Louisiana and a long-term ESU member and benefactor.
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Ryan McAdams, provided the backdrop for the Gala, while David Bernard, Fox 8 News New Orleans anchor, served as master of ceremonies. It starred world-renowned opera soloist sopranos Irini Kyriakidou Hymel and Christina Vial Comer, and guest pianists Michael D. Harold and ESU Vice Chairman and Board President E. Quinn Peeper, MD, who performed to standing ovations Bach Piano Con certo No. 5 and Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 (hence "Rach and Bach").
Other program highlights included a warm welcome by ESU New Orleans Branch Dave Grissett, keynote remarks by ESU Chairman Dr. Paul Beresford-Hill; and special greetings from our international friends delivered by Jane Easton, Director-General, ESU of the Commonwealth, and Lucia Dumont, outgoing President of the English-Speaking Union International Council.
The evening also paid tribute to the ESU's educational programs. Xavier University student Serena Newberry, winner of the prestigious 2018 English-Speaking Union Luard Morse Scholarship, spoke powerfully about the transformational experience of studying for a semester at Goldsmith's University of London afforded to her by the ESU Luard Morse Scholarship. On behalf of all 79 Luard Morse Scholars she thanked the organization for this unique opportunity to explore her potential and gain the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to be successful and make a real difference in the world.
New Orleanian Rohan Padmakumar, ESU National Shakespeare Competition 2018 finalist, performed two Shakespeare selections – Aaron from Titus Andronicus and Sonnet No. 144. The ESU National Shakespeare Competition is a one-of-a-kind program that transforms American high school students into ardent Shakespeare appreciators and lovers of literature and the dramatic arts.
On Sunday morning, November 17, before the Annual General Meeting, Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer and Associate Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) regaled the conference delegates with fascinating stories about the OED's creation in the pre-computer age. Having authored a book on the subject, Mr. Gilliver is one of the lecturers on the ESU Travel and Learn Abroad program for ESU members and lifelong learners that takes place each summer at the University of Oxford.
Another notable social event was the annual National Patrons Reception, which took place on Sunday evening, November 17. This year's reception was held at the magnificent Long Vue House and Gardens, a historic house museum and gardens in the gracious Lakewood neighborhood of New Orleans. Attendees enjoyed an elegant reception in the playhouse featuring cocktails and passed hors d'oeuvres, and were invited on self-guided tours of the house itself. The reception honored the ESU National Patrons, our most generous members, whose support makes our education programs possible.
The conference weekend concluded with a day-long coach excursion up the Mississippi River. The Monday plantation tour included two historic antebellum plantations—San Francisco and Oak Alley—offering participants a look into a past when cotton was "King" and New Orleans was the largest city in the American South, a view at the current landscape along the river, as well as different approaches to historic and heritage preservation.
Special thanks go to the ESU New Orleans for hosting the memorable 2018 Annual Conference, particularly ESU Vice Chairman and President E. Quinn Peeper, ESU New Orleans Branch President David Grissett, host committee members Shauna Grissett and Drew and Julie Jardine, Robert and Judith Patou, and all the volunteers who helped to make the 2018 National Conference a success.