Behind The Wish - Bob Fowler

Meet Bob Fowler - the inaugural president of the Cairns Branch of Make-A-Wish.

Throughout 11 years, Bob Fowler left no stone unturned in setting up the Cairns Branch for success.

Behind The Wish is our series of inspirational reads diving into the everyday superheroes involved in creating life-changing wishes.


Bob excited by Cairns Branch opportunity

I think I put in about 10 or 11 years for Make-A-Wish. I was the first president of the Cairns Branch. I did start the branch.

It was either 1986 or 1987 that we kicked off the Cairns Branch of Make-A-Wish. I know one of the fellows who brought Make-A-Wish back from the United States was Darryl Seccombe.

He was an MLC Life Insurance agent, as was I. His wife at the time Diane got in touch with me.

There was a branch created in Brisbane by Darryl. I think that was about 1986.

I was definitely sold on the deal by Diane and Daryl Seccombe in those early days. And I was excited about it. It was a way to help kids.

I thought this is a great concept to be able to give to kids when they are not travelling too well.

If you can help, you do.

You get emotionally upset because you know some of these kids are not going to last too long so you want to make whatever time they have left enjoyable for them.

Diane got in touch with me and said ‘we would like to see if we can get a branch up and running in Cairns’.

She said we could put an ad in the paper and see if we can get some interested people along.

We had a handful of people turn up and I don’t remember all the names of the people but I know three who ended up sticking around: Heather Dutton, and Lucy and Alan Hutchinson. That’s when we kicked off.

Picture: Cairns Branch trailblazers Bob Fowler and Lucy Hutchinson ran a golf tournament to raise money for Make-A-Wish.


Dolphins, light planes and the Barrier Reef

We hosted a few wishes, kids who wanted to come up here and see the Great Barrier Reef.

Early on there was one kid we sent over to Monkey Mia to swim with the dolphins.

The kids never wanted to do extravagant things, like a trip around the world.

They were wishes for things to do in Australia.

Alan Hutchinson was a pilot and had a Tiger Moth and he took kids on rides on that when they visited Cairns.

One of the wishes I remember really well, so too my family, was this young bloke who came to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef.

He and his father came up to Cairns for Christmas of 1990.

We got them accommodation right on the waterfront and Cyclone Joy happened to come into Cairns. The kid was most excited that a cyclone had come in! They came out to our place and had Christmas dinner with us.

My four kids all remember that very fondly. We eventually got out to the reef and the boy did the few things he wanted to do.

That’s one of those things that really stands out in your mind.

One of the toughest things was doing home visits, going out and meeting with the kids. It’s not something you get used to.

It was the sort of thing that I was happy for Lucy and Heather to get involved in.

I did a few and I thought nah whatever their wishes are I will try and chase them up.

If there was someone from Make-A-Wish down south saying we have kids coming up and what can we do, I would organise things.


Bob means business when he comes to Cairns

I came to Cairns from Brisbane on a work transfer as the District Manager for MLC Life.

I came here in 1971 and then July 1972 I pulled the pin and started my own business and that progressed and now we are financial planners.

We have been in business, 50 years last year (2022). Two of my boys are involved in the business.

My wife Jill was from Brisbane too. But I met her in Townsville, when I went there for a couple of years.

I have a daughter with three kids and a son with three kids.

We have a holiday place on the Sunshine Coast and we spend a bit of time down south catching up with the grandchildren. Plus, Jill has family members down there.

We have a big garden here, I have to do work at home a lot. It’s a very tropical garden, you only need someone to spit on it and it grows a couple of feet.


Branch driven by energetic, committed volunteers

The Cairns community was always very giving.

We would get accommodation, any tours out to the reef or anywhere.

We never had to put our hands in our pockets for anything.

It was a great feeling being involved in a charity that positively impacted kids. People understand that and people were prepared to open up their hearts and wallets to help us out.

I don’t know if the wishes came directly to us here or came through head office.

There was one kid who wanted to fly in a jet plane. Some were way out things and you think ‘gee how is that going to happen’ but they did and that’s one of the great things about being involved with Make-A-Wish.

Picture: The Cairns Post

We wouldn’t go out and seek feedback but the families involved were always appreciative of what we had done for them.

It was always very positive and heartwarming. It kept people inspired. The families and the kids, in particular, enjoyed what we did and were grateful for our help.

I hadn’t kept in touch with the wishes since I left but only in the last two years or so when (current vice-president) Trish Thomson got involved with Make-A-Wish. She was a client of ours. Then I thought ‘there you go, Make-A-Wish is still going strong’.

The Branch has been successful because it’s been around and done some good work, it’s been driven by an energetic committee.

It’s very hard to get volunteers these days. Even back when we kicked off we would never have more than half a dozen people.

And I know that’s the situation now with the Branch. But the people there are really keen, enthusiastic and love the work that they are doing.


Links with local sport

The next chairman following me was Joe Vella. He stayed in the chair for a long time.

I saw the Make-A-Wish team up here at the rugby league club last weekend. I am a life member of the Brothers Rugby League and they had the seasons launch.

They announced there that Make-A-Wish was the charity the club adopted and were going to pay $5 for every try scored by the A Grade, Reserve Grade or U18.

They are hoping to raise $10,000 or more. I did smile. The club president, he’s only been in Cairns six or seven years, said a lot of people have been around a lot longer.

And I was one of the old guys from the club and, bugger me, Make-A-Wish came up at the launch!

I have had a lot to do with local sporting organisations.

My business, which I have stepped away from and only do couple of days a week, we support rugby league, netball (my wife started the Leprechauns club up here), hockey, tennis, soccer, rugby.

And generally we would be involved in junior sport as we believe sport helps build character for kids.


Passing the baton to others

Make-A-Wish was something I was really pleased we got involved in.

It was one of those things that you can only have a number of years before you get a bit stale and other people have better ideas than you.

Or maybe other ideas they can bring in. I was involved in coaching juniors in sport and was spreading myself a bit thin so I thought I would step aside from Make-A-Wish.

And Joe Vella was so energetic, he was the perfect person to take over the reins.

I am 78. There’s not too many parts of me that haven’t been repaired.

A lot of them old football injuries. But I keep kicking on. No illness, just bones and muscles that were injured when I was a young vigorous football player.

I played for Norths (Northern Suburbs Devils) in Brisbane. We won the grand final in 1969.

I am glad Make-A-Wish kept going in Cairns and there are people who are carrying the baton today.

Jill has said to me ‘why don’t you get back involved with Make-A-Wish’ and I said ‘ah well, we will see.’ I don’t know, I will keep it in the back of my mind. I have got to keep myself busy some way.

We will see what happens.

Bob proudly volunteered for 11 years.