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January 25, 2015

Burns Supper

Burns Supper

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Heather & Thistle Society and your guests.

I am very honoured indeed to be invited to propose a toast this evening. This is the first (and probably last) time that this honor has been bestowed on me.

I believe it is the custom, going back more than 200 years, for the proposer to make a speech and discuss the meaning of Burns in his or her life. I'd like to discuss 4 ways in which Burns interacts, not only with me, but everybody in this room and all who live in this wonderful country of the United States. My wife and I are proud to be Citizens having lived in Silicon Valley for 15 years before retiring in England last April. I stand before you in the tartan of "The State of California".

I'd like to share 4 little stories about how Burns has interacted with the United States, Silicon Valley, my marriage to my wife Alison. And to explain the relationship between Burns and the City of Houston.

So let's begin with the United States.

Burns lived from 1759-1796 and was a eye witness to the American Revolution. Burns never left Scotland, however he was worldly wise and would hold court in a pub in Dumfries. The stage coach would arrive bringing the papers from London. Burns would read the papers and regale his cronies with his interpretation of events. Many of his poems involve politics. For example he wrote about Cornwallis and the events at Yorktown.

However, I'd like to share with you an astonishing political poem. Remember he was a eye witness to both the American and French Revolutions:

The Rights of Woman

While Europe's eye is fix'd on mighty things,
The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.

Burns, the ploughman poet, had fans everywhere during his life, and, by our attendence tonight give proof that he continues to find new followers everywhere.

I was a Senior Computer Scientist at Adobe Systems in San Jose, California. I was requested by a Russian co-worker to start an Annual Burns Supper in the office. Regrettably, that never happened. However I'm going to divulge a secret about Adobe that will surprise you.

Poetry is displayed in the rest rooms at Adobe in San Jose. PPP is the "Poetry in the Pissoir Project" and 6 poems are displayed every month in the restrooms. I volunteered on 3 occasions to be guest editor and of course Burns was the selected poet one January about 10 years ago. On another occasion, I displayed poetry from Scotland that included works by Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Service, the Great McGonagall and others. The poetry was beautifully presented in artwork made with Adobe Illustrator.

On my third "slot" as guest editor, I immodestly displayed my own works and I'd like to read a little excerpt from a poem I wrote for my wife Alison for the occasion of our Silver Wedding which we celebrated in 1999 in Sydney Australia.

To Ali

Many bards have written over the years
To express sentiments of love into their lady's ears
"How do I love you. Let me count the ways"
OR "My love is like a red, red rose"
By comparison these verses are only like prose

If you wish to read the poem, it is published on my web site:


The reason to discuss my poem is to introduce my most favourite song by Burns. You'll be grateful to know that I will not sing it to you although I have on many occasions sung this to Alison when we've celebrated Burns Night together at home.

Red, red rose

O my Luve's like a red, red rose
Thats newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
Thats sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a the seas gang dry:

Till a the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho it were ten thousand mile

One of my first dates with Alison was to attend the Burns Supper in our High School in 1968. Burns has been at the centre of our marriage. Always. We were both born in Ayrshire which was of course the birthplace of Burns. As indeed our Chairman this evening hails from Ayr and his wife, my sister Irene.

So now, I arrive at my fourth story and it concerns a relationship between Burns and Houston. Thanks to the splendid work of Jack Hume and the enthusiastic support and donations of many in the Society and elsewhere, a Bust of Burns stands in the International Friendship Garden in Hermann Park. It was dedicated in 2003 and will be rededicated tomorrow on the 259th Anniversary of the Birth of Burns. The park has been splendidly remodelled during the last year. We hope for a great turnout tomorrow.

On the side of the plinth at the monument, there are a few words from Burn's most famous political poem.

A Man's A Man For A' That

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

This Nation was born during the life of Burns. Thomas Jefferson said:

The American Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Shall brother's be for a' that? Yes. This nation is on a staggering journey to implement the vision of Burns.

So.... Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for listening to my stories about how Burns interacts with this nation, my work and marriage, and your wonderful city of Houston. Burns means something to us all.

Please be upstanding. The Toast is "To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns".

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