WHRO and the Hampton Roads community lost a cherished friend and colleague on the first day of this new year. Hope Mihalap passed away after many years of bringing laughter to thousands across the country. She was by vocation a professional speaker, but she was much more than that dry title might suggest.

Hope was born into a Greek family in Norfolk. She was secretary to the Austrian-born Sir Rudolf Bing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She married a Russian who worked for the American Army during the war. She drew humor from all of these experiences, as well as from everyday life, even from such mundane things as a child’s lunchbox.

She spoke all around the U.S. and was especially in demand in the various Greek communities, where her routines and punchlines in Greek would bring forth gales of laughter. Her humor, though, was universal, enjoyed by everyone. After any one of her shows, one’s face muscles could be sore from laughing so much.

Hope had a great ear, not only for classical music but for the music of language. Her accents were spot-on. She could sound like a Brooklyn grandmother, an old-Norfolk aristocrat or a mid-western housewife, all in the course of a couple of minutes.

For her years of brightening peoples’ lives, Hope received the Mark Twain Award for Humor from the International Platform Association and the Council of Peers Award of Excellence from the National Speakers Association, a well-deserved honor.

In her routines and in conversation, she would often describe her experiences working for the imperious Sir Rudolf Bing at the Metropolitan Opera. Incidentally, she is mentioned only in passing in Bing’s book 5000 Nights at the Opera, and then not by name. No matter. She was in the wings when some of the greatest singers of the age were performing on stage, the likes of Renata Scotto, Robert Merrill, Nicolai Gedda, and her friend Leontyne Price.

Beyond her speaking engagements, she served for many years as co-host with Dwight Davis on listener request programs on classical radio stations WGH-FM and WHRO-FM, always bringing a fresh insight when introducing selections from opera, her first musical love.

As a writer, Hope contributed to the Virginian Pilot and its evening counterpart, the Ledger Star. When Michael Dukakis, of Greek heritage, was running for President, she wrote a humorous take on “A Greek in the White House,” which was published in Opera News. The best-known of her six books is Where There’s Hope, There’s Laughter, essentially an autobiography, which provided much material for her presentations.

As those who knew her can attest, Hope Mihalap was exactly what she appeared to be - a witty, funny, intelligent woman whose humor was matched by her grace, warmth and kindness. She left the world a more smiling place.