Jay Copp 2013-07-08 23:25:34
New President Dreams and Then Does Barry Palmer said no, sorry, not able to make it. Lions from Germany were visiting his own club that same night. “Are you sure you can’t be there?” the club president asked him again. She wanted Palmer, then the district governor, to present Melvin Jones Fellowships that night. Her club was an hour’s drive from his home in Hornsby, near Sydney. “We’d really love to have you,” the club president persisted. District Governor Palmer fidgeted and did some quick mental math about the travel. “Well, I’ll come if you can start the meeting just a little bit early,” he told her. “I’ll do it first, then I’ll have to leave.” Not wanting to rudely rush away, he lingered at the meeting after he presented the awards. What he witnessed next practically melted his heart. Lions rolled a young girl in a wheelchair toward a four-wheeled contraption with an upright seat in the middle. The Lions gently placed her in the seat of the Hart Walker, and the girl, strapped in a standing position, pushed forward and willed herself across the room. At home the walker empowered her by mitigating her disability, allowing her to set the table for dinner, grab the phone and draw nearer to visiting friends. The next morning Lion Palmer called the nonprofit in New South Wales trying to provide more children with Hart Walkers. A staffer told him they were seeking donors and a letter had already been written for Rotary. “Have you posted it?” he anxiously asked. “I’m waiting for my boss to sign it,” she replied. “Well, change one word,” he said. “What’s that?” “Change ‘Rotary’ to ‘Lions.’” That bolt of sudden bravado left District Governor Palmer weak in the knees. “I put the phone down and thought, geez, what have I done. But we got the money together within 12 months–$300,000–and from there it just took off.” The Hart Walkers now are one of the signature projects of Australian Lions. There’s definitely a method to President Palmer’s madness. Our new international president dreams big and then finds a way to realize those dreams. Since becoming a Lion, he’s spearheaded or played a major role in a host of service projects that have transformed lives and the overall direction of Lions in Australia. He set up the Education Builds Bridges program for Lions in Australia to provide downtrodden children in Indonesia with a solid education. He and his wife, Anne, persuaded his club to support an orphanage in India with their help. He represented Australian Lions in preparation for the Paralympics there in 2000 and championed Lions’ generous support of the well-respected Children’s Cancer Institute in Sydney. People in need, especially children, bring out the Lion in President Palmer. “Children always bring a tear to his eye,” says Lion Pauline Henebery, who runs Education Builds Bridges. “He is very much a normal sort of bloke in that sense. He sees a child taking their first steps in a Hart Walker and tears come to his eyes.” Other Lions who know him well relate similar encounters. President Palmer visited areas in East Timor stricken by the massive tsunami in 2004. “You could see his heart welling as he told stories about what he saw,” says David Thompson of the Hornsby Lions. “He told us what the Lions had done, how the funding was working. It was heartfelt, and he was so proud of what we were achieving.” President Palmer traces his compassion to his Aussie roots. “Disadvantaged children have always been my passion,” he says. “I guess it’s part of the Australian ethic– [root for] the underdog: those that can’t help themselves and even with sports teams. If you’re the underdog you come out fighting.And I think that’s why I’ve always gone for the underdog to help them get up.” This year President Palmer wants Lions to follow his path–to dream big and to reach out even more to the needy and underserved. He has planned a substantial microfinance venture in India and other nations, a worldwide Lions Family Week in April for families and friends to have fun together serving, and a yearlong focus on increasing female membership. But the larger focus will be on the method–following your dream, his theme. (See page 21 for the complete Palmer program for 2013-14). “I can’t give you what your dream will be,” he says. “It’s up to Lions to decide. It may relate to your club. It may relate to Lions. It may not. It may be something in your personal life. All we want you to do is plant the seed and go with it.” President Palmer’s goal is ambitious, but longtime friends say don’t bet against him. “He has a very, very sharp mind and a very compassionate heart. And he’s a very hard worker,” says Thompson. “He’s a person who can talk to people to encourage them to do things they don’t think they can do. Very supportive. But he also has the strength to face the challenges that have to be faced. If hard words have to be said, he’s quite prepared to say them.” Our new president became a Lion almost by accident in 1976. Customers at his retail store near Christmas wanted a particular fruitcake made by Sara Lee. Palmer called Sara Lee; employees would not let him sell the cake and did not tell him why. Now more curious than ever, Palmer did some digging and discovered the company made them under license for Lions clubs. So Palmer called up a Hornsby Lion and offered to sell 20 cartons of the cake. “They thought I was nuts because I wasn’t going to make any money from it. But they didn’t realize that the cakes were bringing customers into the business,” he says with a smile. The club eventually invited him to a meeting to honor him with a certificate of appreciation. Then the light bulb finally went on, and Lions asked him to the next meeting. “I said, ‘Bill [Atlas], why didn’t you ever ask me to join?’ He said, ‘I thought you were too busy.’” Lion Palmer jumped right in, doing repairs for senior citizens, cleaning yards, painting, and, of course, grilling at sausage sizzles, the Australian Lion equivalent of a pancake breakfast. Lions became a way of life for him and Anne as they hosted exchange students, got involved in Lions’ drug education programs and began traveling and meeting Lions nationwide and worldwide as Barry took on more leadership roles. The day he truly became a Lion was when he saw the effect the Hart Walker had on children. “I feel very emotional to know a child’s life has changed,” he says. “There was a case I remember very clearly with a little boy who refused to walk [in the Hart Walker]. The doctor said, ‘Oh, this sometimes happens.’ So as a reward his parents bought a puppy. They brought it into the room and just held it near the door. And this kid just took off and walked and grabbed his puppy.” President Palmer’s challenge as president is not with one child or even a nation of disabled children but to effectively lead Lions of more than 200 nations. “What makes a good leader is somebody who is not afraid to surround themselves with people better than they are,” he says. “Too many leaders go the opposite way and surround themselves with people who are not as good as they are. The last thing I want is ‘yes men’ or ‘yes women.’ I want people who will challenge me and throw their thoughts out there for us to think about. That’s my basic philosophy on leadership. It’s as simple as that.” His goal is to translate dreams of Lions–even his own–into reality. A year from now he will stand on stage at the international convention in Toronto and know in his heart to what extent dreams came true. “My dream is that I’m going to hand over to Peter Lynch [senior executive administrator at Lions Clubs International] an envelope with my dream written in it. I will ask him to open it and read it in Toronto to see if we got my dream. But basically my dream will be for everybody in Lions to achieve their dreams for the year.” Digital LION Learn more about our new president’s plans for 2013-14 at www.lionmagazine.org. From the Outback to Out and About in the World Barry J. Palmer is part Outback, part Sydney and all Aussie. “I’m proud to be an Australian because of our culture,” he says. “It’s very relaxed, very laid back, easygoing and friendly. People you’ve known for years, people in the shops, banks, always want to have a chat.” When Adam Scott hit a key shot at this year’s Masters, he screamed, “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!” President Palmer understands. “The success of our athletes–we do very well for a country of only 20 million people. And I guess our isolation has been a plus in some ways that we don’t have a lot of problems and troubles or fights and wars. It’s a very peaceful place.” Lions’ 97th international president was born in the middle of World War II in Hornsby on the outskirts of Sydney. The bush was President Palmer’s backyard. Wallabies hovered near his home. “You’d hear the thump, thump, thump, and you knew there was one hopping down the back fence line,” he recalls. Young Palmer was one of three children. His dad, Jack, was an accountant. Sylvia, his mom, ran the home. Barry played three soccer matches each week. “I love the team spirit of it. I like the skill of it. It’s fast. It’s open,” he says. Intending to work in the wool industry, he attended an agricultural high school. He worked in the bush and in wool sheds. He relished the outdoors. “I think it’s important to be in tune with nature–to just sit in the bush for a while and listen to what’s going on and observing the animals, birds and lizards.” But the wool industry slumped, so he found a job at a bank. Funny thing about the bank business– you see how money can be made. “I was meeting all these customers running their own businesses and doing quite well. So I decided that if I worked as hard for myself as I did for the bank I’d probably make a lot of money,” says President Palmer. He started buying businesses, improving them and selling them. Then he went into real estate. It went well for him with Remax. “He was pretty much the most successful real estate man around. He was known as the godfather of the industry,” says Lion Francesca Parrino, a protégé of President Palmer’s in the field. President Palmer enjoyed furthering the dreams both of homebuyers and employees. “Assisting other people is something I’ve done for the last 30 years whether it’s a client or staff member,” he says. “You used to get a sixth sense just by talking to them. I never used to go through a fixed questionnaire when I was employing people. I used to put a pen on the desk and say, ‘Sell me the pen.’ You could see how they reacted. Some of them couldn’t sell me the pen. But at least they tried.” Young Palmer met Anne when she was 15 and he was 19. He was the drummer in a rock ‘n roll band, and she came to see him play–over and over. Guitarist Vince Maloney later played with the Bee Gees, but the band fell apart. Barry and Anne were just beginning. Both quiet and reserved, they grew up and matured together as a couple. “Yeah, we hit it off. I couldn’t put my finger on any one thing. It was just a progression of growing up and wanting to share my life with her,” he says. The Palmers have three children and eight grandchildren. He kicks the soccer ball around with the younger ones. “Anne was desperately keen to be a grandma. But if someone’s calling me grandpa then I’m getting old. So they call me poppy,” he says. In Hornsby, the Palmers have the best of two worlds. “I enjoy living in Sydney but on the fringe. I don’t like the hustle and bustle,” he says. “It’s good to be at home where it’s quiet and the birds are the noise you hear.” Downtown Sydney is a 50-minute train ride away. “We would go there for the theater, for musicals, visiting bands. There are a lot of things to do there. I love going to Chinatown.” It’s the world of Lions that will occupy them for the next year. “Look at the projects and the variety of things we do around the world,” President Palmer says. “What I’ve seen so far just blows me away as to what we can achieve.” Digital LION Learn more about the life story of President Palmer at www.lionmagazine.org. Get Up-to-Date on Down Under A service club’s membership restrictions led to the founding of Lions in Australia. In the mid-1940s, Bill Tresise served as national president of Apex, a community service organization of young adults in Australia. About to turn 40, the age limit for Apex, he was rebuffed when he tried to extend the limit. Traveling overseas, Tresise, a builder, met a Lion entirely by chance, and when he returned to Lismore he began the first Lions club there in 1947. Australia has 27,251 Lions in 1,249 clubs. Australian Lions are particularly devoted to youth, and one of their most prominent activities is the Youth of the Year program. Many high-profile Australians have taken part in the program in its 46 years. Typifying their carefree, casual attitude, Australian Lions marching in a parade often sing “Waltzing Matilda,” a bush ballad or country song regarded as the unofficial national anthem. The title is slang for travelling by foot with one’s goods in a “Matilda” (a bag) slung over the back. Aboriginals played the didgeridoo, a conical wind instrument, in 2010 in Sydney at the 93rd International Convention and were also scheduled to perform in July at the 96th International Convention in Hamburg. President Palmer’s nickname among Lions’ friends is Wombat, a native Australian animal with short legs and a rotund build. President Palmer says the name fits for this reason: “It’s a stubborn individual you’d never back into a corner because it will come out fighting. Otherwise it’s a very placid, easygoing animal.” In 2005, Barry Palmer received the Australian Medal, the second highest honor accorded to civilians, for his service particularly as a Lion in and outside of Australia. Australian Lions are immensely proud of Palmer as president and predict great things. “I think he is a visionary. He can see things as how they should be, not as they are,” says Nigel Jenny, LCIF coordinator for Multiple District 201. Adds Lion Helen Sham-Ho (pictured), the first Asian-born member of Parliament in Australia, “I think he’ll be a great international president. He’s very, very much a person who can motivate people, who is gentle and who can impress people and drive them to do the right thing.” The most famous Australian Lion is Ian Fraser of the Brisbane Inner West Lions Club. A clinical immunologist, he was named the 2006 Australian of the Year after creating a cervical cancer vaccine.
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