Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Landmark Retirement

It was my good fortune in 2003 to participate for the first time in a class that was at once enlightening, challenging and, no exaggeration, life-altering. That class was called The Landmark Forum (www.landmarkeducation.com). Based in San Francisco, Landmark Education stems from a rich history of providing new ways of looking at one’s past, present and future which has a major impact on how one sees oneself in the world, starting with the founders of est back in the 1970s, when my father participated.

Landmark’s core philosophy, that it "exists to empower and enable people in fulfilling those matters which are important to them, and in the process to leave them transformed, with more power, freedom, self-expression and peace of mind" has evolved through the years from when Werner Erhard founded his est training in 1971. 600 people took his four-day course that year. By 1976, 90,000 people had completed the training, including such notables as Diana Ross, Valerie Harper and the head of Warner Bros, Ted Ashley. By 1984, when Erhard retired the training after 13 years, his message of empowering self-responsibility had spread to over a half-million people across the world, including India, the Soviet Union, Australia and the United Kingdom.

From left: Myra Sachs, Jesse Turner
and Hillary Sigismondi are all longtime
Landmark Education participants 
In 1991, Landmark Education was founded on the bedrock principles established by Werner Erhard. The educational corporation now offers programs in over 120 cities with 53 major offices across five continents. More than 180,000 people take Landmark courses each year, including the original Landmark Forum, the Advanced Course, and the Self Expression and Leadership Program, which combine to form a "Curriculum for Living". The courses are not inexpensive and participants are challenged to look at themselves and their relationships in ways that can be truly confronting. But I can tell you from personal experience that you will come out of the training with a life transformed. Anything you want for yourself and your life is possible through Landmark’s teachings. You aren’t brainwashed. It’s not a cult. But you are asked to search deeply within yourself to take a new look at how you interact with the world around you. I found the training both thought-provoking and intense. And it changed my life.

More than one cake seemed to indicate
that Chuck's retirement would include
tropical beaches...
Chuck Woffard first took the training when it was still est in 1977. Twenty years went by as he delved into a full career in the mental health profession, with stints as a therapist, administrator, and consultant, all in the Washington D.C. area where he lives. Then, in 1997, he took The Landmark Forum. So empowered and moved was he by the experience that two years later he joined the Landmark staff as enrollment manager in charge of training volunteers to lead introductory seminars about Landmark Education to their friends and loved ones (Landmark does no commercial advertising). Since 1999, Chuck has worked for Landmark Education at the Washington D.C. center in Alexandria, Virginia. Now, after 13 years, he was ready to retire. Naturally, a party was in order.

...and lounge chairs with umbrella drinks
Whose home would be large enough to hold the hundreds of Landmark employees, volunteers and graduates whose lives Chuck had touched over the years and who desired to wish Chuck well as he embarks on this next chapter in his richly rewarding life? Longtime participant Jeannine Wayson stepped forward to offer her gracious abode. The date was set for Saturday night. Guests were asked to bring a potluck offering and a nominal fee to cover the cost of a gift.

As it happened, Saturday night was also the eve of the lunar new year, into which the year of the snake would be ushered. I chose to go with an Asian theme for my attire, donning a Vietnamese Ao Dai (traditional formal gown) of gold satin slacks beneath a richly embroidered black velvet top which was custom made for me in Hanoi two years ago at the behest of my dear friends, Su and Truc Trinh (for a story about that, please see my post titled "Lunar New Year Celebration"). I added gold and amber chandelier earrings from Fire & Ice Jewelers of Baltimore (www.fireandice.com), plunged a Dea Dread, custom made for me by Thea Osato of Baltimore, into my locks (http://deadreads.etsy.com), and wrapped a gleaming golden snake bracelet with rhinestone eyes around my wrist.  Wearing my most comfortable platform pumps by Call It Spring for JCPenney, I set out on my journey south.

There were so many well-wishers present
it was hard to move from room to room!
Jeannine’s lovely estate was a good distance away, more than an hour’s drive from my home in northwest Baltimore County. Not far from Maryland’s state capitol of Annapolis, Lothian is a small, unincorporated, rural community of little more than 6,400 people living in homes with an average age of 22 years. Jeannine’s historic property defies that statistic, having been built in the 1700s. As I moved from elegant room to elegant room, I was as impressed with Jeannine’s attention to historic detail as I was by the crackling fire in the keeping room’s large, green marble-framed fireplace. In the dining room a stately table was laden with platters of ham and turkey, while a steady stream of guests brought side dishes, appetizers and desserts. Bowls of nuts and candies sat on small side tables at every turn.

Chuck gestures in response to a comment
from the crowd as Center Manager
Cindy Rogers laughs during her tribute
to the retiree.
The party’s atmosphere was positively electric with joy, as Landmark participants greeted fellow graduates and staff members they had not seen in years. All were there to celebrate the contribution of an unassuming man who joined with them in expressing unwavering support of and respect for the process of providing the world with a global educational enterprise committed to the fundamental principle that people have the possibility of success, fulfillment, and greatness, no matter where they live or their perceived station in life.

A special man in the Landmark community,
Chuck Woffard will be deeply missed
Soon, Washington’s Landmark Center leader, Cindy Rogers, took a position halfway up the tasteful home’s main staircase and beckoned all to gather ‘round. She read a heartfelt tribute from the San Francisco headquarters, highlighting Chuck’s long service to Landmark Education and his steadfast dedication to its noble mission of empowering lives through transformational learning which fundamentally shifts people’s awareness of how they think, act and move in the world. It was a sentimental evening in an ancient, graceful home amid hundreds of like-minded human beings whose modus operandi for being on our planet is to help bring people more fully in accord with their own possibilities and those of others. A moving tribute to Chuck’s legacy, indeed.
Cheers,
Lynell

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