Jerry knew Henrik in the 70 and 80s. Jerry was deputy secretary general of the New Zealand Red Cross when Henrik Beer visited New Zealand in 1974. I will never forget that visit as the headlines in the New Zealand Red Cross monthly magazine read WE WANT MORE BEER. When Henrik's career was finishing in 1981, Jerry had established himself firmly as the SG of the New Zealand Red Cross. The two men had regular contact and had mutual respect for one another.
Jerry has been an outstanding leader for he had excellent vision, took a long-range perspective on the big things and was able to develop concepts. He focused on people and inspired trust in all he met. He was gifted with a strong intellect and made a huge contribution for over 40 years to global humanity.
Bill Clinton with his arm round Jerry Talbot (far left) in the Maldives. The leadership qualities of Bill Clinton are renowned, but Jerry Talbot hid his light under a bushell, during a Red Cross career that spanned 41 years.
Jerry comes from a large family who still farm In Onga Onga in the Hawkes Bay. Above is a photo of a cattle farm in Onga Onga.
Not surprisingly with his farming background, his first assignment for the New Zealand Red Cross in 1968 was taking some bulls for breeding in Western Samoa. I often joked with him that he was an impressive bull-shipper. The next year he spent one year in Vietnam working on livelihoods programmes for displaced people. For 14 years he was Secretary of the New Zealand Red Cross and under his leadership, it developed into a very well functional organisation. Next he moved to Geneva in 1990 where he became head of the Asia Pacific Region for the IFRC. Jerry is married to Jen, a very lively and intelligent women, and the have three married sons. During his red Cross career he spent time helping his sister run the family farm and when possible, he would slip off to a quiet stream or river, where he indulged in fly fishing. There, like on Thoreau's Walden Pond, Jerry would reflect on the troubled world and come back more motivated to change the world.
In January 2005. Jerry moved to the Maldive Islands where the IFRC built thousands of houses, put in new water supplies, restored livelihoods and assisted many thousands of families. One on the greatest tributes to Jerry Talbot is through his leadership and vision on Dhuvaafaru Island in Raa Atoll, where the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has created new homes for more than 3,700 people who were displaced from their original island after the Indian ocean tsunami struck in 2004.
At the opening ceremony on 2 March 2009, His Excellency Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives paid tribute to Jerry Talbot for his leadership in making the dream of a new village on Dhuvaafaru possible.
His Excellency Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives and Jerry Talbot at the opening of the settlement on Dhuvaafaru Island.
It was 1971 when I first met you. You were a veteran having started working for the New Zealand Red Cross in Samoa in 1968. That was 41 years ago. I remember flying to Bangladesh with you in 1972 in a New Zealand Air Force C-130 with a Land Rover, from Wellington-Auckland-Sydney-Darwin-Singapore-Calcutta-Dhaka. I recall the pilot of our plane almost hit an Indian plane coming in to land in Calcutta. The pilot told us later, the air traffic controller shouted “ O my God, that was a near miss, it seems I am going to have another day like yesterday.”
Jerry Talbot (l) talking to Red Cross volunteers on the remote Tsunami affected island of Nias, Indonesia.
Then the next year we did a 3 week assessment in South Vietnam looking for an appropriate location for the NZ Red Cross to work.
When you were head of Asia and Pacific we travelled through the battlefields and storehouses of sorrow in Afghanistan together. Then in early 2005, the boot was on the other foot, I line-managed you in the Maldives. I remember you almost drowned me in the Maldives an hour out from Male when our boat sprung a leak. The next year you were line-managing me when you became Special Rep. to the SG for Tsunami.
Jerry Talbot (l) and myself on Laamu Island, Maldives
Jerry. it has been a joy working with you, for you. Your leadership has been outstanding and inspiring. I think this quote is apt:
Be tough yet gentle
Bold but humble
Always swayed by beauty and truth.
I will miss you, the Red Cross will miss you.
Forty-one years of dedicated services you have given. Something to be proud of.
The Federation team in Indonesia thanks you from the depth of their hearts for the superb leadership you have provided, the example of integrity and humility you set, and the calm way you dealt with crises.
The head of BRR Kuntoro Mangkosubroto holds you in the highest possible esteem, and has greatly enjoyed working with you. I attach a photo of you both at the Tsunami Champions meeting.
Jerry (r) talking to Kuntoro Mangkusubroto Photo: Bob McKerrow
You are a Champion Jerry, and I am losing an outstanding boss, we are all losing a great leader and boss.
Happy fishing in those beautiful NZ rivers.
Ni sa Moce
E noho ra
Malo le lei
Goodbye in Fijian, Maori, Samoan and Indonesia
Jerry Talbot wrote with passion and conviction. Here is an article he wrote late last year.
Tsunami response strengthens community coping
30 December 2008
By Jerry Talbot, the special representative for the tsunami operation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
In mid November in 2008, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake shook the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, taking four lives, damaging bridges and roads, and forcing 1,000 families from their homes.
Most people around the world didn’t hear about the quake and its aftershocks. It just wasn’t big enough to make the headlines.
Nevertheless, trained Indonesian Red Cross Society volunteers immediately went into action in Sulawesi. They evacuated people from collapsing houses, distributed medicines, blankets and baby kits, and assessed the situation to see what else people needed.
Thank goodness for those local volunteers. Damage to the roads meant they were on their own during the critical first few hours after the disaster. But even if the roads – and ports and airports – are clear, outside aid always comes later. And the funds available always depend on the generosity of donors.
The Sulawesi disaster reminds us that the most important resource in disasters is not money. It is people, people who are trained and committed, people who are prepared to respond when the unthinkable happens. The spirit of volunteerism from within communities at risk means being on the ground before a disaster strikes and being trained to leap into life-saving action at a moment’s notice.
A catastrophe like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami draws an immense profile, billions of dollars of aid, tonnes of relief items and hundreds of foreign aid workers.
With those resources, the Red Cross Red Crescent has been able to run the biggest disaster response operation in its history, with a budget of Swiss francs 3.108 billion and programmes across the Indian Ocean.
The achievements are remarkable, given the diverse range of challenges and complexity thrown up by the disaster. Four years after the disaster, 97 per cent of planned houses have now been completed or are under construction; more than 500,000 people now have access to an improved water source; and 375,000 have been reached by community-based health services.
Yet the tsunami operation is far from normal. Business as usual is responding to a variety of localized, daily shocks that have the potential to undermine years of painstaking social and economic development, and cumulatively affect far greater numbers of people with suffering and hardship. Business as usual in many contexts is dealing with multiple minor disasters, sporadic unrest, outbreaks of disease, ever-higher prices for food and fuel, or creeping climate change.
The best response to these daily shocks is not headlines and donations from afar. The fastest, most appropriate response comes from those who live and work alongside the people affected. It is finding solutions and engaging at the grassroots level.
In the immediate aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami, trained Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers – who had often lost loved ones themselves – went to work to help those around them.
Jerry Talbot (l) and Bob McKerrow centre with a member of the French Red Cross on Laamu Island, Maldives.
That same spirit is alive in Indonesia today after the Sulawesi earthquake. It is alive in the food crisis in the Horn of Africa. It emerged in May 2008 after the Sichuan earthquake and in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis. And in the ferocious hurricane season in the Americas.
Our work begins long before disaster strikes. Our approach is to reduce the risk of disasters through building a culture of prevention labelled “early warning, early action”. Early warning means proactively analyzing real and potential risks, and preparing communities for the expected - and unexpected - threats that may emerge. Early action means addressing structural vulnerabilities to mitigate those risks and to prevent devastation and suffering.
Acehnese fisherman Zainal Abidin lost his house in the tsunami. He asked the Red Cross Red Crescent to build him a traditional-style wood-frame house on stilts. “I chose this house because I am afraid of another earthquake and tsunami,” he told the Red Cross Red Crescent. “We are afraid of living in a brick house because of earthquakes, but we feel safer in this wooden stilt house because it doesn’t shake when there’s an earthquake.”
Red Cross Red Crescent programmes build the capacity of the community to cope – and ultimately to strengthen development. Our programmes to enhance disaster preparedness and the capacities of our member National Societies change ways of life, attitudes and mindsets at the grass roots level. They encourage people to work together in peace across ethnic, religious and class lines under common Red Cross Red Crescent principles.
Because of the catastrophic nature of the tsunami, the reality is that many people and places will never fully recover. Tragedy cannot be erased with houses, schools and hospitals, jobs, fishing nets or clean water.
The outpouring of generosity after the tsunami, however, has enabled the Red Cross Red Crescent to invest in enhancing communities’ ability to cope with future shocks such as disaster, disease, conflict, inflation or climate change. By building realistic capacity in communities and in local Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteer networks, we work to bring sustainable improvements to people’s lives before, during and after disasters.