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Professor Palmer
Professor Palmer
Grain Specialist

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 his own.

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 Associaton.

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)…a rare 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…human race.

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 this award…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

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