Remembering LaShunda Rundles: How to Write a Eulogy

“I believe that we aren’t half afraid of dying as we are that no one will remember we were ever here.”

– LaShunda Rundles, 2008 World Champion of Public Speaking

 

I first heard those words on August 16, 2008, in Calgary, Canada.

I was in an audience of nearly 2000 people for the coveted Toastmasters International 2008 World Championship of Public Speaking. Think of it as the American Idol of Public Speaking.

It was one of those rare moments when you sensed you were witnessing something special. And then LaShunda Rundles removed any doubt and confirmed that this was a special moment. She sang….like an angel.

I wanted to absorb the moment and remember where I was when history was made.

In her brief life, LaShunda made her mark on history. We’ll always remember that she was here.

In the 70 year history of the contest, LaShunda was the first African American women – and only the fourth woman ever – to win this prestigious prize.

After a long battle with lupus, LaShunda Rundles passed away on August 21, 2012. Fellow World Champions of Public Speaking, Jim Key, (2003), Darren LaCroix, (2001) and I attended her funeral in Dallas, TX.

Jim lived in the same area as LaShunda and had an opportunity to really get to know her outside of our World Champion of Public Speaking “family.” LaShunda’s sister asked Jim to say a few words about her at the funeral. Jim was honored but recognized that it was going to be a daunting job because “anytime you have the chance to say something significant to honor a person, their memory and accomplishment, that is not a small thing.” I discussed with Jim how he tackled this difficult task.

Know Your Timing

Jim was given one guideline – he only had two minutes to speak. He knew that he had to give “purposeful thought” to crafting his message so that he would honor LaShunda and provide encouragement for her family and close friends.

When Jim started the process, he asked himself, “What do I want to accomplish during this eulogy?” He felt that he needed to give people an opportunity to smile, or maybe even laugh a little, as that can be healing. He knew that he had to “bring up a few things that would allow people to enjoy their memories” of LaShunda. He also wanted to share something uniquely personal to him.

As Jim only had two minutes, he knew that “specific care had to be paid to how many words he put in, to how they connected to all of these purposes, and it took some time to craft that.”

Give the Essence of the Person

Jim wanted to “weave in a theme of LaShunda’s impact in a sort of summary-type statement, or a tagline” that he could use throughout the eulogy in an effort to tie it all together.

Jim realized that many of the people attending would not know who he was, or how he was connected to LaShunda. He also realized that people were not there to hear about him. During the eulogy, Jim spent some time talking about the World Champion of Public Speaking “brotherhood” and the impact that LaShunda had on the group. She “changed the dynamic because she brought a much needed grace and charm along with her style and strength” and they were “better for it.”

Jim also shared that while visiting with LaShunda in the hospital, he was amazed to see that even “though she was in pain, her sense of humor was intact.” He also stated that he was able to “witness her deep love and trust in the Lord.” He felt that all of these things were a true testament of LaShunda’s character, her essence, and that they needed to be included.

Know Your Audience(s)

When giving a eulogy, there are three audiences to which you are speaking. The first two will be attending the service: immediate family and close friends, and the congregation. The third audience is outside of the worship service – the general public.

Jim recognized that the most important audience was the immediate family and close friends. They “take precedent” and he knew that sterilizing the eulogy in order to appeal to a larger audience would be doing them a disservice. He then prioritized the different audiences from there.

The decision was made to record the Jim’s eulogy, as they knew that LaShunda’s presence reached further than just those in attendance. [Go to the end of the article to here Jim’s eulogy.]

During LaShunda’s Champion speech, rather than speaking the words, “Some glad morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away,” she chose to sing them. When Jim got to this part of his eulogy, he felt that it would be a “fair representation” if he did not simply recite them, but sang them as she did. Jim felt that this would be a very “meaningful thing for her family” and he was right!

Craft Your Theme

In crafting the theme, Jim was “trying to find a way to briefly express the lasting effect, or lasting impact, that the presence of LaShunda made in each person’s life.”

Choosing a theme can be very difficult. Jim reached out to another colleague, 1995 World Champion of Public Speaking, Mark Brown, for his assistance. The overriding theme was that “because of LaShunda’s presence, we are better for it.” Jim found ways to sprinkle the theme throughout the eulogy, but felt that it should also be “the very last thing that he said because as a World Champion, an African American woman, a woman of faith, because of her involvement in our lives, we are better for it.”

Deliver the Eulogy

When writing and delivering a eulogy, Jim’s advice is to “clearly identify all of the things you want to accomplish and list them.” Jim suggests writing it all out, making an outline and making sure that everything you want to accomplish is covered.

Know your time limit. Be aware of who will be speaking before or after you because “maybe they will say something that is necessary for you to include.”

Remember that this will be delivered in an “emotionally charged environment” and “exercise the greatest sensitivity for the family of friends of the person.”

WRITE IT DOWN! While many people want to deliver a eulogy “from the heart,” you will be in an emotional space. So, write it down, take it with you and just in case you are overcome by your emotions, you will have something to refer back to so you can carry on.

But the overall thing you want to accomplish is to “honor that person, and let that be the most prominent thing in your mind.”

“Some glad morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away.” LaShunda, we will never “forget” that you were here, and we are better for it!

Take a moment to listen to Jim’s eulogy for LaShunda.

 

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