Being able to say anything whatever, wherever and whenever you want

Oliver LongOliver Long, at a Demosthenes Club gathering
We continue our series of Q and A posts featuring CSA conference attendees. On this post, we meet Oliver Long, who has lived all over the world while facing discrimination due to having a severe stutter. 

 1. Tell us about yourself. 

I am a retired Chartered Professional Accountant. I have lived and worked on three continents, and have emigrated twice. I love travelling,adventure and meeting people from all walks of life. 

My main hobbies and interests now are lifelong learning, photography, walking, nature, gardening, music, select movies and theatre.  

In 1966, with my Scottish wife, we immigrated to Canada travelling by boat from Southampton. After two enjoyable years in Montreal, the highlight being Expo ’67, we moved to Toronto.  

I was raised in in Kenya, where my family farmed. From the age of six, when I left for boarding school, I only spent three months per year on the farm for school holidays. 

Both my parents were immigrants; my father from England and my mother from Nazi Germany. Up to age six I spoke mainly German and Swahili, the universal language in East Africa. Thereafter it was only English at school.   

Friends of my family told me later that I was a real chatterbox. This changed when I became conscious of my struggle to speak.  

After 8 months conscription into the Kenya Regiment I was released to attend University in England. My years there were very happy, despite a very severe stutter. I felt accepted, took up rowing (another of our crew also stuttered!) and made good friends. 

After graduating, I joined a prestigious old firm of Chartered Accountants in London. Normally one month probation was required before getting articles. Then I was called into a partner’s office and told that because of my stutter, the firm would not offer me articles as “the clients would not like it.” I pleaded vigorously to be given a chance. Finally it was agreed that I continue probation for a second month. I found that the clients I worked for actually liked me enough to even ask the firm to send me back for future engagements. So I obtained my articles, passed all the exams and qualified as a C.A. three years later.  

During my professional life I faced quite a bit of discrimination. For example in Montreal a partner suggested I look for another job as my stutter prevented the firm from promoting me. 

For the first time in my life I found some helpful therapy in Toronto. First Van Riper’s acceptance method, where we worked in pairs stopping folk in the street. If not ignored, we would engage them in conversation about stuttering. I discovered that most people were not bothered by it. 

I was lucky at Imperial Oil that the company doctor (now an extinct species)referred me to Dr. Bob Kroll. My speech fluency steadily improved after taking the Precision Fluency Speech Program followed by lifelong participation in self-help groups, especially The Demosthenes Society founded by early graduates in 1979. I am very impressed to have seen the progress made by so many members past and present who persevered. “Practice makes perfect”, though I prefer to think of it as being able to say anything whatever, wherever and whenever you want. 

2. What was it like for you to grow up stuttering?  

Growing up stuttering was hell. From the age of 6 years I attended government boarding schools in Kenya run along British lines. So there was no escape at the end of each day.   

For me stuttering provoked enormous anxiety and I was very ashamed of it. It also led to much teasing and some bullying. 

At the age of eight I auditioned for the lead role in a play called “The Tutor”. I had several blocks and failed to get the part. This was my first memory of being acutely upset by my stutter. I never acted again. 

No one else I had ever met stuttered. I felt very alone. 

At High School near Nairobi, about 250 miles from home, it was only after I turned sixteen years old, that I met someone else who stuttered. This was a new younger boy who joined our house. Of course stuttering was something neither of us would ever discuss either with each other or anyone else. 

A few teachers would advise me to relax and breathe, but no one showed me how. Probably all of us have received well-meant but useless advice like this. No speech therapy existed in the country. 

I did make some very good lifelong friends. One of them would read out my marks for class assignments to save me the embarrassment. I was excused from reading out in class, and also avoided having to read the lesson at chapel. I was good at avoidance. 

3. What is your favourite memory/experience of CSA 

Working on the organizing committees of both the first two CAPS (the former acronym for the CSA) conferences held in Toronto was a truly enriching experience. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Jaan Pill, the driving force behind establishing CAPS and the chair of the 1995 Conference. Our team was enthusiastic, productive and fun to work with.  

 In 1995 we set an amazing record of over 200 attendees, including many from the USA and several from Europe.  

 We had four keynote speakers and got funding for instantaneous translation into French. These and 24 workshops were all recorded live(audio tapes, before the advent of CDs ). Complemented with a varied choice of social events I was in a high mood throughout, despite the considerable work of keeping the records and helping raise funds.Notable speech professionals and researchers, people who stutter including young folk and their families created a wonderful ambience for all.   

4. What difference has the Canadian Stuttering Association (CAPS & NSA)  made to you? 

The main difference that the CSA (CAPS & NSA) has made to me is that I have met many wonderful friendly and compassionate folk that have led successful and happy lives and have motivated me. I relish their company and no longer feel alone.  

I have gained much more knowledge regarding stuttering. This has led to greater speech fluency and losing most of my fear both before and during speaking situations. 

My life has been enriched by getting to know such diverse people that I would not have met if I never stuttered.  

5. Do you have a tip you'd like to share with others who stutter?

If you stutter, I would highly recommend that you join and participate in self-help groups involved with speech and stuttering. Obviously this includes national groups such as the CSA and NSA, as well as local groups including The Demosthenes Society and one of themany Toastmasters clubs found in most North American cities and around the world.  

We can all improve our communication skills. This facilitates making new friends and living a more fulfilling life.