Steve Birch, who had an ongoing battle with cancer since 2016, lost his fight and passed away at home on Tuesday 23rd May 2023.
Former army colleague, fellow Toastmaster and long-term friend Rick Cooper summed him up like this:
“In a world lacking true heroes, Steve Birch is an unsung example of how one individual can make a difference to the lives of many without making a fuss or a claim. He has done more for the cause of Toastmasters in the District than anyone I’m acquainted with. As an ambassador he was without peer; as a mentor he was kind and shared his wisdom and experiences generously.”
Steve entered the army as a apprentice in 1970 and was educated at the Army Apprentice College in Harrogate from where he was posted to Worcester as a Lance Corporal in 1973 and thus began his attachment to Worcester and Malvern Hills. He left the army in the early 1980s as a Sergeant and began his business career. In 2016 he organised a Regimental Reunion in Worcester to mark the 40th anniversary of his regiment and their disbanding. That he did it as his Toastmasters High Performance Leadership Project demonstrates how highly he regarded both organisations.
Steve was always a keen sportsman whether it was a team sport – his passions were cricket in summer and rugby in winter – sailing, or the solitude of fishing. This robustness manifested itself in his everyday life too.
His initial club on joining Toastmasters in 2009 was the newly chartered Cheltenham Speakers. He said that he was initially very reticent to speak as he had a bad stammer that had stopped him from giving the eulogy at a family funeral. It was 5 meetings before he would even do a table topic. Once he started, he soon got into the swing of things and took on more and more roles including joining the committee. He organised the demonstration meeting at Malvern in May 2013 and he led the meeting in his own inimitable style; that mix of fun and serious business. He was also a founder member of Worcester Speakers in 2019. He took Toastmasters into local schools through Youth Leadership Program and judging at school speech contests.
Steve was awarded “Toastmaster of the Year” in 2018-2019 by the then District Director Andy Hammond. Andy said:
“Steve’s energy and enthusiasm in supporting members was outstanding. In that year alone he was VP Education for both Malvern Speakers and Worcester Speakers, completed Level 4 in Presentation Mastery in the first year of Pathways on his way to a Triple Crown, and still made time to produce a number of YouTube tutorials on “Pathways for Dummies”.
Amongst the vast number of online tributes this from Jackie Graybill, Area Director J11, District 91 reflects the overwhelming feeling:
“The world has lost one of the best speakers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Steve Birch, or “Birchey,” as we called him, loved speaking and he also loved mentoring others in the craft. When he had the stage, he brought his wit, cheeky humour and incredible wealth of knowledge to gift to his audiences. He was creative, fiercely intelligent, a bit snarky, and had a giant heart. I learned many things from Birchey, not least of which is not having to be acknowledged by others to know my worth and talent as a speaker. Birchey was humble and he seemed to take more pleasure in the success of those he mentored than in his own. I rarely heard him complain about feeling poorly, even though he was struggling with cancer he knew was terminal. He once showed me a Toastmasters speech he gave shortly after he received his diagnosis, nearly a decade ago. He called it, “Whilst I Can, I Will.” I think that title perfectly sums up how he lived. He helped as many people as he could for as long as he could. Thank you Steve, for living an inspiring life, and for how you inspired me and helped me become a better speaker. You will be missed. We celebrate the life you lived and all you gave us – the extraordinary legacy you left behind. We are better for having known you!”
Steve saw leadership as a service to others and that the membership experience came first. Whether that was a new member taking their first steps, a club officer, or a district officer. He believed in using his experience and expertise to help other people become better people. His philosophy was fairly simple, he’d been given the chances and the support and so now it was time to pay it back.
Steve will leave a lasting impression on all of those who he gave his time to. There are many who would not be in Toastmasters if it was not for his enthusiasm and example of what they could become.
A final word from Rick Cooper:
“We all have a huge pair of shoes to fill now. Or maybe Crocs. Missing you Mate.”
Past District Director, District 91