Those of us journeymen speakers who have spent countless years plying our trade on platforms across the vineyards of the world are truly blessed. We have met some wonderful audiences and even more honored to share lifetime relationships with the gifted orators of our generation who share those stages.
My dear friend W. Mitchell, CSP, CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame was in Orlando recently, carpet bagging engagements from the local talent. We did what we always do when we get together… broke bread, drank adult beverages and told lies over a couple of choice steaks at the famous Charlie’s Steak House.
It was one a day earlier when Mitchell and I learned that we had lost another close friend and a Legend of the Speaking Profession, Ralph Archbold, CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame.
Each summer, my bride Christine and I would always spend time with Linda and Ralph Archbold at the Veteran Speakers Retreat, the host body of the Legends of the Speaking Profession.
Those of us close to W. Mitchell know that his name was something of an enigma. While his real name was always a closely guarded secret, he chose W. Mitchell to actually honor his step-father.
Ralph Archbold was more widely known as Dr. Benjamin Franklin, a role that he played so well over some five decades. USA Today actually identified him as “the face of Ben Franklin.” He looks more like Ben Franklin than the real Ben Franklin.
Ralph began impersonating Franklin in 1973 for a local summer production in Dearborn, Michigan. The endeavor motivated him to read over 200 books on and about Ben Franklin. In doing his research, he found that he and Ben shared the same birthday, January 17 among other things, like looks.
Like most of us in the speaking profession, Ralph got his start performing at schools for free or small fees. From those humble beginnings, he branched out, speaking to thousands of corporate audiences worldwide, always as the face of Ben Franklin.
I sought Ralph’s counsel when I migrated to Florida in 1989. I actually moved to Orlando because I got tired of flying there. Ralph had done the same thing in Philadelphia. He acquired an apartment right in the heart of the city and literally walked to work for most of his engagements.
Some days, he would address as many as a half dozen different audiences, many of which took place at The Benjamin Franklin Museum at Independence National Historic Park on South 3rd Street.
Like countless others, I enjoyed watching Ralph perform there. He and his lovely wife Linda, who impersonated Betsy Ross, would always be our host and hostess for our visits to Philly. He was constantly stopped hundreds of times by adoring fans for a conversation or a photo.
As Christine and I enjoyed our meal with Mitchell, he told of the time he was in Philly with his nephew eating in the basement of a popular restaurant. His nephew spotted Ben’s legs as he was walking by on the sidewalk above and exclaimed “There’s Ben Franklin!”
Mitchell said to his nephew “Go out there and tell Dr. Franklin that a big fan of his W. Mitchell wants to see him downstairs in the restaurant.” The nephew followed the instructions and retrieved Betsy Ross and Dr. Ben Franklin for a lovely meal and visit. “My stock with my nephew went up a few points that day,” joked Mitchell.
Both Ralph and Mitchell fell in the one-trick-pony category of our business. They had one themed message. Ralph was the face Dr. Ben Franklin. Mitchell is the face of the man who will not be defeated despite having most of his body ravaged by a motorcycle accident and two separate plane crashes. He jokingly calls the cycle accident a gasoline facial. He remains the hope and inspiration of thousands.
When Mitchell preceded me on a platform in Colorado in 1988, I heard his remarkable story for the first time, which brought tears to my eyes. I joked with him that day “If it is all the same to you Mitchell, I will get my own ride.”
Ironically, though their messages were one-and-done in nature, I suspect they were booked time and again by the same clients more than any two speakers in the world. That is a true testimony to their ability on the platform. One and done? Not so much!
Michael Aun is a syndicated columnist and writes a weekly column for this newspaper. To contact Michael Aun, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.