A tribute to my father

John Stephen Zimmer, Sr. (1933 – 2021)

At the end of January, I had to travel to Canada on short notice because my father was ill and in hospital. Sadly, he passed away on 18 February 2021. That’s why I have not posted anything in the past several weeks.

As difficult as this time has been, I am grateful. I was able to surmount all the pandemic-related hurdles that now make international travel a challenge; I was able to get through a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a hotel room in Toronto; and then I was able to travel to visit with my father for more than a week before he passed.

As a family, we were incredibly fortunate. The hospital where my father was being treated has not had a single case of COVID and we were given 24-hour access to him in his room. Many people have not been as lucky with their loved ones during the past year.

My father, after whom I am named, was born in Budapest, Hungary. He and his family came to Canada as refugees in 1948, a few days before Christmas, and settled in Port Colborne, Ontario.

Dad worked hard to help support his family during those years and was very involved in the local Hungarian community. He was a gifted singer and active in the Port Colborne Operatic Society for many years. It was there that he met my Mom, the love of his life, at the show Annie Get Your Gun. They married in 1959.

My father as a young man

Dad was a skilled plumber, electrician and carpenter. There was nothing he couldn’t design, build or fix. I’ve seen him take apart and rebuild everything from a car engine to a washing machine to an antique clock. Unfortunately, the handyman gene never made it down to me.

As mentioned above, Dad was a great singer. Later in life, he rekindled his love for singing as a tenor with the Dukes of Harmony, Toronto’s renowned barbershop chorus, performing in concerts in Canada and the US. The singing gene never quite made it to me either.

My father was a fantastic public speaker. He honed his skills as an orator through the Christopher Leadership Course and became one of its instructors. I heard him speaking in public several times when I was younger. Even though English was his third language, he mastered it and never failed to hold his audiences in thrall. While in Canada, I came across some of the many materials on public speaking that he had read over the years.

My father had lots of material on public speaking

Dad was a gifted storyteller. He often shared fascinating stories about life in Hungary, Germany and his early years in Canada. My two daughters are the oldest of his grandchildren; I have fond memories of them sitting, enraptured, as he regaled them with tales of days gone by.

Perhaps a little bit of the public speaking / storytelling gene trickled down to me. Even so, as many relatives told me over the years, when it came to public speaking, Dad was on another level.

Always willing to help others achieve their potential, my father spent his career in the Training and Development Department of the International Nickel Company of Canada (Inco) and the Apprenticeship Program for the Ontario Provincial Government.

Among his boxes of memorabilia, I discovered some great acetate transparencies – the precursor to PowerPoint for those of you who are too young to remember them – that Dad had created for some of his trainings.

My father created these acetate transparencies

I remember how much my father enjoyed conducting those trainings and workshops, and helping people become better versions of themselves. Now that I am doing similar work, I can appreciate the feeling and am proud to have followed, at least in part, his path.

Have a good journey, Dad. I love you.

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  1. What a beautiful story you have told about your father, John. I feel sad that I never got to meet him. I am lucky to know you. I am sure his legacy lives on within you and you make him proud.
    Take care as you now face an empty spot where he once stood but I know he is in your heart for always.

  2. John, that’s a beautiful tribute to your father. What a wonderful way to follow in his footsteps with your amazing public speaking work. My condolences to you and your family. My very best wishes to you.

  3. What a wonderful homage to your great Dad, John. My sincere condolences again. John Zimmer Sr can certainly be proud of his son, for continuing his legacy. I am also honored to know him indirectly through You.

  4. What a wonderful story. Your words and the images you share say so much about your love and respect for your father. And his work was so important. He wrote a chapter of public speaking history and yes, his legacy definitely lives on through you, and your inspiring work. Thank you.

  5. Lovely tribute John.

    It makes me think about that piece in Covey’s ‘7 Habits..’ where he asks the reader, looking to spend his life well, to imagine what he’d like people to say after he’d passed. I can’t think that your dad would want anything more than the impression you’ve left here.

  6. Thank you for letting us see how wonderful your father was. And so handsome! His energy lives on in you, your children and his entire family. God bless and comfort you all.

  7. I enjoyed to learn a bit about your father John.
    Knowing you, I can see some similarities.
    His light will shine in you.

  8. Thank you John, for sharing this heart-warming post and story of a visibly highly-esteemed father. I wish you and your family all the courage and strength in mourning your father’s passing. May he rest in peace. He lives through you and your children.

    1. Dear John … such a lovely tribute to so dear a msn as your Father clearly was … talented and rich in many gifts and skills and in public and private service to community, family and friends … may he truly rest in peace … and you and yours in his enduring love, example and memory. Condolences and empathy to you and all the family.

  9. Very sorry to hear this, John. You really honoured your father with such a wonderful tribute.

    1. Many thanks for the kind words, Brendan. I really appreciate it. Hope you, Cherise and the family are keeping well.

    1. Thank you, Daniel. I appreciate the thought. But life goes on and I know Dad wouldn’t want the family to feel too sad for too long. Hope you are well.

    1. Many thanks, Hugh. It’s nice to hear from you after so long. I hope that you are doing well these days.

  10. John,

    I am sure he was proud of the public speaker you’ve become. May he rest in peace.


  11. What a beautiful tribute John.

    His grace, love for family, and storytelling gene has without a doubt trickled down. His love and beauty will always be with you and continue to trickle down.

    Love you, John

    Bob and Marlise

  12. John,

    Even if we don’t know what’s coming after this life, strive to do good, be the best version of yourself now and here and he will for sure look down to you with a smile on his face! All the best to your family and to you!


  13. Thank you for sharing, John. Very touching. How good that your perseverance paid off and you could be with your father in his last days. I would love to hear some of those Hungarian stories one day. With all your speaker’s skills, please.

    1. Many thanks, Marcus. I very much appreciate it. I know of your interest in Hungary from our discussions and from having read “The Budapest House”. In fact, I do have a couple of stories. One in particular would really interest you as it had an impact on the history of communism in Hungary. Perhaps I could share it over a Zoom call one day.

  14. Love this heartfelt reflection. Next time in Barcelona we’ll ask you to sing … to check it out for ourselves!

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful stories of your father. Glad to have followed along on your Canada quarantine adventure.

    1. Thank you, Conor. I appreciated your call while I was in quarantine and I appreciate the good thoughts here. I look forward to the next time I am able to travel to Barcelona. As for the singing … be careful what you wish for!

  15. Dear John,

    Thank you for sharing this tribute. I send you and your family my condolences. It made me remember my own dad when I prepared in typing the slides for his classes of Obstetrics in the University of Venezuela. He wrote them, I typed them and take them to a Photo Shop to be made into slides. I send you and your family my love and prayers through this period of mourning. Your dad rest in peace.


    1. Muchas gracias, JP. I am glad that the post brought back some memories for you of your own father. I hope that you are keeping well and I extend my wishes to your family and friends in Venezuela.

  16. Dear John,

    I am so sorry for your loss.

    Thank you for sharing the tribute to your father. He seems to have been a man of many talents and someone who did not heaitate to follow his passions and dreams.

    It looks like you are more similar to your Dad than you think. He must have been very proud of you and the many lives you have touched.

    I wish that you might find your strength and your inner light to continue inspiring others after these difficult times. You father might be watching you and might be excited to see what you do next.

    Thank you for inspiring me every time you speak or write!

    Wishing you only the best!

    Kind regards,

    Julia Kirchner

    1. Thank you, Julia, for the kind words and thoughts. They are very much appreciated. I hope that our paths cross again, whether at a Toastmasters event or elsewhere. Stay well.

  17. Hi John, you may not remember me, but I do remember you so well – which is why I read your remarkable story – a story of life, so well transmitted! Keep well and keep sharing your skills!

    1. Hi Joseph,

      Nice to hear from you and of course I remember you from my early days in Toastmasters. Thank you for the kind words. I hope you are keeping well.

  18. Hi JZ. Very well-written tribute.

    I am going to send the link to a few ND alumni I am in regular contact with. My condolences on your Dad’s death. His life story is clearly rich … even from your short summary. Really glad you made it back to be with him. I have been dreading the obstacles of a similar trip.


    1. Thanks, Chris. I appreciate the comments. If you have to travel, I wish you the best of success and luck.

  19. I never knew that about your dad John, that he also taught public speaking and I loved to see the acetates he created. The same old principles still apply. I find myself very curious about how his voice sounded, with an accent still perhaps? Much love to you.

    1. Hi Olivia. I appreciate the comments. Dad had a unique accent. His English grammar and pronunciation were flawless; he spoke better than most native speakers. There was an accent, but not an obvious one. You could hear that there was something there, but it was hard to define. It’s not easy to explain. A big hug back.

  20. The genes of public speaking you got for sure!

    Such a beautiful tribute, John. It made your dad smile by reading it.

    Sending love from Lisbon.


  21. I can hardly imagine a better tribute to a loving father than to see growing the seeds he planted in his beloved son. You are an outstanding tribute to him, every second, every minute, every day. I can see tears of joy and love in your father’s eyes, wherever he may be now. My condolences and empathy to you and your beloved ones. Take care!

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International