Valdosta Daily Times

November 12, 2012

At Random: Philip Barr

Barr shares love of speaking, singing, teaching

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — For Valdosta resident Philip Barr, a sharp and energetic 71, the golden years couldn’t be more exciting.

A sort of intellectual triathlete, Barr loves three things — public speaking, singing and teaching — and his retirement has allowed him to pursue all disciplines to a degree of excellence.

Barr is a member of the public-speaking organization Valdosta Toasts and  the choral ensemble Sine Nomine Singers, and he teaches marketing and management at Park University online and at Moody Air Force Base.

His most recent achievement is earning the title of Distinguished Toastmaster, a title that is typically the culmination of between five and eight years of public-speaking mastery, the organization’s highest honor. Out of every 1,000 members of Toastmasters International, three earn the distinction, Barr said.

To earn the honor, Barr simply “worked at it,” preparing and performing about 40 speeches in a variety of formats including persuasion, storytelling, interpretive reading and humorous speeches.

And as a prerequisite for the award, he completed a “leadership project,” enlisting the support of more than 90 percent of his neighborhood and the Valdosta City Council to install speed humps along Smithbriar Road.

Barr is truly a master of presenting toasts, or speeches, and as such has been a passionate member of the organization since August 1985.

“My late brother, Tommy, invited me to a meeting, and by the end of the hour, I was ready to join,” Barr said.

Barr continued his active membership until 1997, when the club “fizzled away,” he said. But 10 years later, when he learned Curt Fowler was organizing a new club, he helped to organize it, and has been involved ever since.

Barr is currently serving as the Division B governor of the organization and is responsible for 17 other clubs “from Savannah to Albany, and everything beneath,” he said. With other members, he is in the process of establishing two more clubs in Valdosta — one at Saft America, 711 Industrial Boulevard, 5 p.m. Thursdays, and another at Wiregrass Technical College, 9 a.m. Fridays.

Toastmasters is more than a speaking seminar or class, Barr said. It is an opportunity for encouragement, to gain public-speaking skills that can and will lead to leadership abilities.

“Learning public speaking is learning to inspire, to connect, to motivate, to move people through speech,” Barr said.

The ability to address an audience is vital to leadership, Barr said, which is all about “the product of effective communication.” He added that good public speaking “is not a charismatic gift; it can be trained as a discipline.”

But Toastmasters isn’t about teaching, either, but supporting speaking achievements with positive reinforcement. With a well-organized structure, at any given meeting, three speakers present a speech each and receive evaluations from other members, and then members practice impromptu speaking during a “table topics” session. And there is frequent applause.

“We do a lot of applauding. One commonality between all the organizations is that everybody is a learner, and everybody is a teacher,” Barr said. “We’re all on the same ground.”

Barr explained that most people fear public speaking, including an actor who began attending meetings. The actor, whose name Barr did not release, starred in a popular television show, and once told him “I can do lines, but I can’t do public speaking.”

As a member of Sine Nomine, Latin for “without name,” Barr has achieved status as a strong choral singer. Members of the choral group are hand-picked, as the group does not hold auditions, and comprises the best choral talent from Valdosta.

Barr has sung choral music since he was 15, when he performed with the church chorus, but he only began his secular choral career after he retired, when Dr. David Johnson, former Valdosta State University music department head, began the group.

The group performs from August to March, practicing together once a week for two hours, which is a great surprise to some people given the quality of the performances, Barr said. The group has performed in Italy and Poland.

Barr has performed in musical theater before, but he “is not a soloist,” he said. “I’m a choral singer.”

Barr was in the wholesale jewelery business, a family organization, for 45 years. While his father began the business, he eventually settled into ownership, but the job kept him from his family. He has two sons, a step-son and seven grandchildren.

“I was traveling three to four days a week to stores and distributors,” Barr said. “When I retired, it was nice to settle down.”