Professor Palmer was born in St Elizabeth, Jamaica 1940.
He lived in Allman Town in Kingston, Jamaica until he was
fourteen years old. Allman Town bordered a tough "play
ground" called Race Course. Geoff Palmer played cricket
and football on this play ground everyday except Sundays.
According to the rules of his aunts, Church and Sunday School
were compulsory on Sundays. He went to secondary schools
in Kingston( eg North Street School and Kingston Senior
School) and was a good at cricket, was picked to play for
secondary schools against private schools. He was looked
after by his mother's sister's: his mother had left Jamaica
for London in 1948 when he was 8 years old and he meet up
with her again when her joined her in London in 1955. He
had travelled from Jamaica to London by plane and ship on
Although Palmer was aware that his mother had intended
him to help her work to survive in London and had secured
him a job in a grocer's shop, providentially he was one
month short of his 15th birthday and therefore had to attend
school in London. The school leaving age then was 15 years.
He was assessed as educationally sub normal and placed
in a secondary modern school in North London. However, before
Palmer left his secondary modern school in 1955 he was selected
to play cricket for the London School Boys Cricket Team.
He was then the only boy ever to be selected from a secondary
modern school to play for London. Some of the teams played
against were: Eaton, Harrow, Winchester and Middlesex Colts.
Palmer was transferred to the local grammar school on the
"strength of his cricket" in 1955. Although placed
in the "slow" stream at the grammar school he
gained six "O"-levels and two "A"-levels
by the time he left school in 1958. Cricket and football
were essential parts of the "transfer deal" to
the grammar school and therefore these exam results were
gained amid full seasons of cricket and football.
Palmer shared a one-room accommodation with his brother
and two cousins in the shadow of the wall of Pentonville
prison. The gas light, outside the window, supplement the
room light for studying late at night. He contributed financially
to the household by doing paper rounds, before he secured
his first job at a college of London University for £5
per week in 1958. During this period he provided "legal
support", by using the local library, for the family
who was being evicted by a violent and greedy landlord.
Plus, there was the ordeal of evading the fascist Black
Shirts and working near Notting Hill after the race riots.
He lived close to the immigrant community and often wrote
letters for those who had difficulties as regards reading
and writing and started to take an interest in race relations.
At work in 1958-1961 Palmer attended evening classes and
improved his exam grades and also the number of his "A"-levels
from two to four. He was encouraged to apply to University
by the Professor for whom he worked as a junior technician.
Although he had a full grant award, every university to
which he had applied because, at the time, there were no
general provisions for new immigrants to enter university
turned him down. Palmer was neither regarded as an overseas
student nor as a local British student. With the help of
the Professor he managed to get into Leicester University
in 1961 where he played for the 1st team at cricket and
managed to gain an Honours degree in Botany in 1964.
The only job offered to him when he returned to London was
a job in the park or a job in a restaurant in Holloway road.
The Job Officer at the labour exchange did not believe that
Palmer had a "real (British) degree"! In order
to support himself he took the job in the restaurant. After
various promotions in the kitchen, he applied for a PhD
place at Heriot University and Edinburgh University in Scotland.
He was offered and accepted the place in Scotland in 1964-1965,
after being turned down for a MSc place elsewhere by a prominent
panel at the Ministry of Agriculture on the grounds that
he should go back to "where he came from". In
Edinburgh Palmer became President of the Caribbean Students
He studied the physiological mechanisms that controlled
the transformation of barley into malt. Malt is used by
the baking industry for making bread and by the brewing
and distilling industries to make beer and whisky respectively.
Palmer gained in PhD in less than 3 years and completed
a Post-doctoral Fellowship before joining the Research Foundation
of the British Brewing Industry in Surrey. There he worked
on the science and technology of barley from 1968 to 1977.
During this period he developed ideas ( eg the Abrasion
Process) which were patented by the Industry. The Abrasion
process accelerated the malting process radically and made
the Industry millions of pounds for the industry. In addition,
his work greatly improved scientific knowledge of cereal
grains such as barley. His diagrams and electron micrographs
are know and used world-wide. Palmer had by then gained
an international reputation as one of Britain's foremost
cereal grain science experts. While engaged in his scientific
work he was deeply involved in 1969 in the need to improve
understanding of the educational difficulties West Indian
children were facing in schools. He wrote four major articles
for the Times Educational Supplement from 1969 to 1971 outlining
what was required to improve the education performance of
ethnic children. He also travelled the country giving lectures
to schools and teachers in his own time without cost.
In 1977 Palmer gave up his position as Senior Scientist
and returned to the Heriot Watt University as a lecturer
and quickly established himself and gained a large grant
from the Coors Brewery in Colorado to do research for them.
He developed his teaching and took in his first Nigerian
PhD student. This student worked on Africa's native grain
sorghum. This was not popular among some people because
it was felt that this could damage British exports to Africa!
Palmer weathered this storm and today, most of the research
work on sorghum is carried out by African and Asian researchers.
A major British company in Africa is a major beneficiary
of this work. Indeed, this industry related approach of
Palmer to sorghum research has produced the valuable concept
that industrial use of local raw materials can drive development
in other areas such as food use of a crop that industry
will develop for its local needs. Palmer is well thought
of in many parts of the world where he has many students
and research colleagues.
In 1985 he gained his DSc (Doctor of Science)
research degree among British scientists and was elected
to a personal chair as Professor 1990. He has served as
visiting Professor at Kyoto University in Japan and he has
visited Africa many times to help with technical education
and has travelled the world for similar reasons. Palmer
has lost count of his publications on cereal grains but
has published at least 150 scientific papers. He compiled,
wrote the major chapter, and edited probably the most important
research book on barley called Cereal Science and Technology.
He has produced many PhD and MSc students from different
parts of the world. In 1996 he went with a British delegation
to China to promote British barley. Palmer managed to persuade
the Home Grown Cereals Authority to sponsor Chinese technicians
to his university. This was done over a period of three
years and the first ship load of British barley was sold
to China. Palmer has acted as consultant to brewing, distilling
and grains companies in many parts of the world. He also
helped to set up the Chivas Regal Academy in the north of
Scotland to promote Scottish whisky products abroad and
was its course chairman. During this work Palmer has been
very active in race relations work in Edinburgh. He has
served on the Executive of Edinburgh and Lothian Racial
Equality Councils for over 20years and is currently President
of the organisation. He is on the committee of family and
housing organisations and has given many lectures to the
community and schools, in different parts of the country,
on a variety of topics. Has published a story book on race
relations called Mr White and the Ravens which has
received favourable comments from world leaders, church
leaders, education officers, people and children. He has
also published various articles on the importance of foods
of ethnic origin to the well being of the world and on race
relations. He is often used as a role model regarding what
can be achieved if black people are given and the opportunities
they need they are likely to succeed. Palmer is currently
promoting the view that if the long and important historical
links between the Caribbean and Britain is known race relations
will improve. His wish is that the anomalies of the word
race will be replaced by the harmony of the words
In 1998 he was awarded the American Society of Brewing
Chemist Award for distinction in research and good citizenship
in science, in Boston. Only three other scientists had received
at the time, none had been from Europe.
In 2002 he was awarded the Good Citizen of Edinburgh award
given periodically by the Councillors of Edinburgh for exceptional
contribution to community work and good race relations.
In 2003 he was awarded the OBE for his contribution to grain
science. To help one of the most celebrated cooks in the
world he acted a science advisor to the well know Reader's
Digest book on cooking called Concise Guide to Cooking.
Among a range of activities he is presently writing a "small"
book on the consequences of slavery called The Enlightenment
- power and the powerless and, he is helping to edit
a three volume Encyclopedia of Grain Science. He has not
only written one of the chapters, he has been asked to write
the introduction that, in a previous publication was written
by HRH the Princess Royal.
Palmer is also a Fellow of many learned societies. He is
married with three children who have all gained university
degrees and are working to meet society's expectation in
their professions. He is very grateful to all those who
have helped him especially his mother, aunts, family, friends
and a number of good "Good Samaritans".
Professor Palmer's hobbies are reading, listening to pop
music and travelling locally.
Nominated by Dawn Kandekore