Profile: The Ability to Advocate
Cab driver uses his Toastmasters
training to implement life-saving law.
By Julie Bawden Davis
When former cab driver Arthur McClenaghan began reading self-help, motivational books several years ago, friends and co-workers snickered and told him not to bother. They doubted the effectiveness of inspirational publications and had a hard time visualizing McClenaghan as anything more than an overweight taxi driver.
“I truly was an American slob,” says McClenaghan of his former self. “I was so lazy that I needed a remote control to fetch my remote control. I was overweight, had no plans for the future and very little money. I knew, however, that I wanted something better out of life, so I began reading books by authors such as Brian Tracy, including his book about overcoming procrastination, Eat That Frog.”
The encouragement and advice McClenaghan found in such volumes drastically changed his life. He began exercising and eating well, eventually losing 70 pounds.
“The suggestions in the books taught me to ignore demotivators and concentrate on motivators,” says McClenaghan, who found references to Toastmasters in many of the books.
“Authors like Tracy highly recommended Toastmasters for building confidence and speaking skills,” he says. “At the time I was interested in increasing confidence, but I didn’t think I’d needed speaking skills; after all, I was just a cab driver.”
But he would soon become much more than a cab driver – thanks, in part, to Toastmasters.
“For over 12 years I drove taxi-cabs in downtown Las Vegas,” he says. “While driving cabs is an interesting job, it can also be dangerous. I personally knew a driver who had his throat slit and another who was hit on the head with a blunt object and died.”
Feeling sorry for family members of cab drivers who were hurt or killed in the line of duty, McClenaghan came up with the idea of putting security cameras in taxis and began pushing for legislation that would mandate their use.
“Many drivers said I was wasting my time because there were only nine owners monopolizing the whole cab industry in Las Vegas, and many people thought that they would never allow the cameras,” he says. Bolstered by the motivational books he’d read, however, McClenaghan decided to forge ahead anyway.
“I originally petitioned other drivers, and everyone – including my boss at the time – told me that it would be impossible to get the cameras installed,” he says. He continued to spread the word, however, soon getting local media attention for his cause.
When it became apparent that McClenaghan would need to speak on camera and in front of the Nevada Taxicab Board, which is a state legislative committee appointed by the governor, he became nervous.
“At first I thought, this is scary! I’m just a cabbie; what the heck was I thinking? But then I remembered reading about Toastmasters and found a club and visited right way. At my first meetings, I was very nervous. When I stood up to speak, I was so shaky, I’d hold onto the podium and had a hard time letting go. Everyone was so friendly and professional, though, that I stayed and stuck it out.”
The Toast of Sierra Toastmasters club helped McClenaghan almost immediately with speaking skills and his confidence grew every day. Just six months after joining, he had to make an important speech regarding the campaign, and he was ready.
Fellow club member Bob Dobson notes how quickly McClenaghan advanced in Toastmasters: “In an amazingly short period of time, Arthur went from being so nervous he could barely stand up, to completely self assured in front of news cameras,” says Dobson, who has been a Toast of Sierra Toastmasters member since 1990. “Considering his admirable and brave cause, club members were more than willing to help him improve, and as a result he became an excellent Toastmaster.”
McClenaghan’s fight for security cameras was not an easy one, and his idea met with a great deal of resistance. “The nine owners of the taxi-cab industry in Las Vegas are very powerful, and at times I was a little nervous, he says. “I also didn’t know if I’d lose my job, but I truly believed in the cause and kept at it.”
As he fought for the security cameras, McClenaghan marshaled all of his Toastmasters training, which he believes helped tremendously.
“Toastmasters teaches you not to argue, because everyone loses in an argument,” he says. “Instead you learn to clearly and concisely state your views and the facts with emotion behind them, as many times as necessary.”
Fellow Las Vegas cab driver Greg Bambic says, “Art presented information regarding the cameras in a reasonable, very persuasive manner that really helped the cause.” Bambic is currently president of the Professional Drivers Association, a group which he, McClenaghan and another cabbie helped turn into a charitable organization to assist injured or killed Las Vegas taxi drivers and their families. Since the organization started helping victim’s families, it has collected almost $100,000 and donated $75,000.
Former taxi driver Jim Szekely, Sr., was almost killed on duty in 1984. “Driving a cab is a really dangerous profession,” he says. “You’re essentially picking up hitch hikers for a living 24/7. I was attacked by a passenger who cut my throat, stabbed me in the back of the neck and made mincemeat out of my hands and arms. Fortunately, God spared me, but others aren’t so lucky, and the money can be very helpful for those left behind.”
Szekely, who started the Huntington, West Virginia-based International Taxi Drivers’ Safety Council 23 years ago after his attack, consulted with McClenaghan throughout the campaign for cameras in Las Vegas cabs. Szekely says McClenaghan’s work on behalf of cab drivers has spurred heightened security throughout the world.
“What Art was able to accomplish in Las Vegas had a ripple effect,” he says. “His professional, direct message was heard all over the world, and it made a difference. Other cities throughout the nation have since adopted policies for security cameras in cabs.”
McClenaghan credits his Toastmaster training with helping him reasonably and calmly convince the media and lawmakers to take his message seriously. Even when the topic went up before the Nevada Taxicab Authority the first time and was rejected 4 to 1 in February 2004, McClenaghan remained determined to turn the tide. Several months later, after studies backed up the research McClenaghan had shared regarding the danger of driving a taxi, and a cab driver was burned to death by a passenger, the Nevada Taxicab Authority changed its position and voted unanimously to mandate security cameras in all Las Vegas cabs on October 26, 2004. Although there have been some changes in the law since that mandate was passed, today all taxi cab companies in Las Vegas have security cameras.
“According to a report by CNN, there has reportedly been a 70 percent drop in crime toward cab drivers since the cameras were installed,” says McClenaghan.
McClenaghan and his wife recently moved to Southern California so he could pursue a career in screenwriting. He is taking courses at UCLA and trying to sell his screenplay, True American. It hasn’t sold yet, but a producer recently offered him a writing job.
“I’m still amazed at my transformation,” he says. “When I joined Toastmasters and started researching the security cameras, I wrote my first article since 10th grade. Until then, I had never attended any college courses. I didn’t even know I would enjoy writing. My point is that deep down inside all of us are hidden talents which can only be discovered when we stretch out into the unknown.”
“I encourage everyone to discover their passion and live their destiny. Toastmasters allows you to do that and so much more.”
For more information regarding taxi cab safety, visit www.itdsc.org and www.Taxi-L.org.
Julie Bawden Davis is a freelance writer based in Southern California. Reach her at Julie@JulieBawdenDavis.com.
Editor’s Note: Do you have an inspiring story of how the Toastmasters program has helped you? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.