Tribute: In Memory of Past International President Jo Anna McWilliams, 1948-2008

Tribute: In Memory of Past International President Jo Anna McWilliams, 1948-2008

In June, at the age of 60, former International President Jo Anna Spiker McWilliams lost her battle with cancer. She left behind a legacy in the organization she served for many years as a member, officer, and ultimately as President in 2000-2001. Most of all, she left behind many friends, who all agree that McWilliams’ chosen theme for her term as President: “Toastmasters: Helping Friends Succeed” represented more than a slogan; it was Jo Anna’s way of life.

“I think it’s important that, as an organization, we acknowledge how important we are to each other,” she said in a 2000 Toastmaster magazine interview when describing her theme. She was only the third woman in the organization’s history to serve as Toastmasters International President.

Jo Anna joined Toastmasters in 1981. She served as District 25 Governor (1988-89) and as a Region III International Director in 1992-1994.

A native Texan, Jo Anna lived in Addison, Texas, with her husband Bruce. For the past 15 years, she was employed by Oracle Corporation as a Senior Consultant, implementing financial software applications. An active member of her community and church, she was an usher of St. Andrew United Methodist Church.

Many tributes to her were posted on a Website in her honor. This is one comment from her obituary: “Jo Anna always put others first, a true professional in every sense, gracious and graceful. She was a lover of music, theatre, doves, world travel and cooking. To her enormous circle of international friends, she will always be remembered for her smile, her kind words and her generosity. There are no words adequate to describe the depth of our love and respect for her.”

Contributions to her memory can be sent to: Susan G. Komen for the Cure ( or Toastmasters International’s Ralph C. Smedley Educational Fund.

Here are comments from some Toastmasters International Presidents who knew her:

“Jo Anna was my friend and mentor who taught me so much about quiet strength. I will miss her terribly and treasure the memories.” 
                    – Jana Barnhill, DTM, AS
                    International President 2008-2009
“Jo Anna was a caring woman and a compassionate leader. Through her service to Toastmasters, she gave life to her theme every day: ‘Friends helping Friends Succeed.’ Thank you, Jo Anna, for helping me succeed!”
Chris Ford, DTM
                    International President 2007-2008 
“I am honored to have been mentored by Jo Anna. I learned so much from her. Jo Anna was a great leader because she was strong enough to stand behind her convictions, yet had an open mind and heart to listen to other people’s points of view. Jo Anna was a true Southern Lady and her theme “Friends Helping Friends Succeed” epitomized what she stood for.” 
Alfred Herzing, DTM
                    International President 2001-2002

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to have known Jo Anna, both as a friend and colleague. I had great respect for her, and always felt that no President ever embodied their theme more than she did.” 
                    – Tim Keck, DTM
                    International President 1999-2000
“Jo Anna was a good friend to many and she made everyone around her better. Jo Anna would ask the difficult questions, she always thought about the member, and she was deeply dedicated to Toastmasters.” 
                    – Terry Daily, DTM
                    International President 1998-1999 

“Jo Anna was a real gem that always shone brightly. She was always very sensible, matter-of-fact and yet had a wonderful way of inspiring members to go beyond themselves for Toastmasters and for the greater good of the whole community. We have been blessed to have had her leadership and support.” 
                    – Len Jury, DTM
                    International President 1997-1998
“Jo Anna was the consummate professional with a bit of sassiness on the side. Throughout her Toastmasters career, she truly exemplified her Presidential Theme, “Friends helping friends succeed.” This is an incredible organization and I will forever be grateful to it because it was through Toastmasters that I met Jo Anna.” 
                    – Pauline Shirley, DTM
                    International President 1994-1995