Behind The Wish - Chris Tucker
Meet Chris Tucker - the incredible Make-A-Wish volunteer who has spent 25 years helping make wishes come alive for children.
Behind The Wish is our series of inspirational reads diving into the everyday superheroes involved in creating life-changing wishes.
Early interest in first aid
I was born in Birmingham in England and I was there until I was 10.
My dad had concerns about employment prospects for his kids so we moved to Wellington, New Zealand, and we were there for four years.
My dad couldn’t settle, he found New Zealand too quiet and too small for him after living in a big city in the UK.
My parents were thinking about going back to the UK but thought ‘we left there for a reason’ and all their family were in Melbourne and Perth and they thought they might as well go to Australia.
My dad’s an engineer and he was thinking about going back to the UK but we were getting to our senior years of high school so it was getting tricky to move again so they stayed here in Melbourne.
I was happy here in Melbourne, but I was happy in every place that we lived.
I had friends in every place we lived so when we moved I would feel sad I am leaving friends behind. But then I would meet friends in a new city and I would be happy.
I was involved in St John Ambulance in New Zealand and I got involved with them in Melbourne. I was 14 when I settled in Melbourne. I joined St John and I made some great friends in that organisation.
I was always very interested in first aid.
When I was in primary school, we had a St John person come and teach us first aid. I absolutely loved it.
My mum was a registered nurse in coronary care and I remember back in the 70s there was a show called Emergency and it was about the Los Angeles paramedics and I absolutely loved that program.
When my mum came home from work, I’d ask her about stuff she’d done at work.
I remember her telling me she did a hospital transfer one night and I said ‘did you ask the ambulance people anything’ .
I wanted to know what their rosters were like, what their work was like. I was 8 or 10 and decided I wanted to be a paramedic.
I don’t know if it’s some genetic thing because my mum was a nurse and my sister is a nurse.
I joined St John Ambulance in Box Hill, I loved the people in the branch.
I was with them for just under 10 years and I gave them up because I didn’t have the time to commit to it.
My career was progressing. You had to be 21 before you could be a paramedic so I studied nursing.
We spoke to a lot of ambulance officers at the time and they said you should do nursing.
Mum and dad said I couldn’t just bum around for three years until I turned 21.
So I did nursing and my interest was in emergency department nursing.
Calm nature useful as paramedic
I always had that inclination to work in emergency health. I did my nursing training and had three attempts to get into the ambulance service.
And at the time I progressed in my nursing career as I thought I may never get into the ambulance service. I did postgraduate training, became second in charge at the Austin Emergency Department.
But then I got into the ambulance service 31 years ago.
I have done lots of roles. I worked on intensive care ambulances for 20 years.
I stopped because I wanted to do less serious cases.
I also did a peer support role, to help paramedics impacted by cases they have been to or things that may be going on at home. I have done that for 28 years and I am still involved with it.
It's really good in this support role when you see them and they say ‘I saw you the other day and I felt heaps better after I spoke to you’, it’s quite satisfying when you know you have made a difference.
Picture: WAYNE TAYLOR, THE AGE
Being a paramedic is not stressful. I think any job is not stressful if you are suited to it.
You can do jobs that make you feel good when someone is really stressed or traumatised and you can ease their pain.
I don’t like delivering babies but when it goes well it’s amazing. It’s very stressful, a lot can go wrong in birth.
There’s only two of us there and we are not obstetricians. I have only delivered three babies, it’s the luck of the draw. I am happy not to do them!
Whereas a colleague has done 13 in three years.
I like helping the elderly people because I am getting there myself too.
I rarely get stressed. I have always been calm.
I think back to working as a nurse in an emergency department people saying to me ‘you’re very calming’. It’s my nature.
Meeting wish kids at the airport
I have been with Make-A-Wish for 25 years.
The majority of time I have had a leadership role.
There’s been a few years I haven’t where I have been busy with work or something. Usually it’s only two years and I think I want to do more with Make-A-Wish and be a leader again. At the moment I am Vice President,
I am one of two Volunteer Care Coordinators and I have a hosting role too.
When a kid has a wish in Melbourne, they come from interstate or overseas and we welcome them at the airport.
Because I am a volunteer at Melbourne Airport, I can make sure I am rostered on when the wish kids come in, I love Melbourne and always love to show it off and talk about it.
I have volunteered at the airport for eight years.
I was dropping somebody off one day and saw one of the volunteers and that put the thought in my head.
When I started as a volunteer I was still working night shift and I would finish work at 7am, go home and have a sleep till midday and then I would come to the airport.
I do love planes but in this role, I can’t see the planes.
I just love helping people, answering questions and being part of the airport. In 2020 they suspended the program (because of COVID) and I nearly cried when I had to hand my security card back. I just love the connection with the airport. The first shift back I realised I missed it so much.
For my 50th birthday I flew first class to London and drove a double decker bus. I love planes and buses.
It was seven years ago. I didn’t want to have a party. For my 40th I had individual lunches and dinners with each friend, because that would allow me to spend three hours with people rather than three minutes at a party. Lunches and dinners ended up going over two weeks.
So, for my 50th I didn’t want a party.
I have a casual job at Box Hill Hospital, working in their cardiac department.
I travel a lot. I try and go overseas once or twice a year.
I love to read; I always have a book with me. If I am standing in a queue, I will start reading a book.
This morning the buses run every 10 mins so I read while I waited for bus to turn up.
Meeting in Chinese restaurant the start of 25 years volunteering
I was at university and I heard an ad about Make-A-Wish on the radio and I thought I’d like to do that when I finish uni.
The thing that appealed to me about Make-A-Wish is that they deal with all kids. They are not just dealing with kids who have cancer.
With Make-A-Wish it doesn’t matter what their medical condition is, we will help them. That appealed to me.
When I finished university I contacted Make-A-Wish for an interview with two people from the Melbourne Branch at a Chinese restaurant in Box Hill. I still remember their faces and names: the President was Heidi Victoria and the other person was David Simpkin.
I did the interview. I went along to the branch meeting and they were very fundraising-focussed and I’m not a fundraising person. I just can’t do it.
They had these tins and they wanted us to take them to local milk bars and ask if we can put them on the counters. I went to the person and said ‘I can’t do it. If that’s what we have to do then I think I’ll leave’. And 25 years later I am still here!
My first wish was a young lad who was a teenager.
And he wanted an entertainment system in his room. The Team Leader and I took him out somewhere and while we were out people went in and installed the entertainment system.
Then he came home and the system was there.
I don’t have a favourite wish. I actually love them all.
When I come away from a wish I am on an absolute high.
I remember the last one I did about two weeks ago. It was a really simple wish presentation; the child didn’t like crowds. His favourite thing was chicken nuggets at McDonald’s and he loved Kinder Surprise, M&Ms and apple juice.
He was just beaming, you should have seen his face. His wish was to go to the Ed Sheeran concert and we went through the itinerary and showed him his Crown Towers hotel, a picture of his room, a picture of his limo.
He was beaming, when we were leaving he told us something. He had speech problems or was deaf and his parents were telling him ‘use your words, use your words’ and he was signing, blowing kisses not thank you, and his parents were saying to him ‘say thank you’.
But he started laughing and they said ‘look he just wants to blow kisses to you’. <
Wishes give the family something different to look at and think about. You can’t take away the pain, the kids are going through painful procedures.
The side effects of chemotherapy are horrendous. You can’t take away from that. But a wish gives them something else to think about.
So, they haven’t just got this negative stuff in their life, they have also got a wish coming up and they are going to be seeing this or doing that.
They can talk about, anticipate it and think what it will be like. The wish gives them something else to talk about.
After the wish, they’ll have photos and look back on this great time that they’ve had.
Searching the world to find a bunny
The other memorable wish is Bronte’s wish.
Wishes used to be magical. The presentations were magic.
Some of the Team Leaders I had when I started they used to have magical Wish presentations, there’s no other word for them. They were my role models when I started and that’s what I aim for.
I remember how much fun they were. To have your mind blown, that’s what I work towards.
Bronte’s wish was for a puppy dog. But she also loved Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
So, after we did the home visit, I said to the other volunteer ‘what about if we could get Bugs Bunny to present the dog?’
That would be pretty cool! We worked on that but shortly after the home visit we went into a COVID lockdown.
So, I thought we couldn’t get someone to come along. It would have to be a virtual presentation. We did another virtual presentation for another wish and I wasn’t that satisfied and I said to myself I am going to make this one magical.
I wanted to work with national office and dog breeder. We would need to know what time the dog is being delivered and we will get Bronte’s family and friends on a Zoom call so they can see her reaction. It was going to take a lot of work, but it takes what it takes.
Whenever you work hard you always enjoy the result more. You just do it.
It was going to be hard to sync the dog breeder with everyone else. And I thought, maybe we get a video message from Bugs Bunny.
Then I started looking around for Bugs Bunny impersonators. I thought it would be easy.
I thought there will be some kids’ party entertainers who does Bugs Bunny but I couldn’t find one in Melbourne.
At the branch meeting I asked if anyone knows someone, do you have friends and can you ask them to post on Facebook if anyone knows there is a Bugs Bunny impersonator?
So, I thought, we need to start searching. So then I emailed Universal Studios in Queensland and got no reply.
I had a friend who worked for Universal Studios in Japan so asked them for a name and he said he didn’t know who it would be. He was no help.
I then said to the team members ‘we should search worldwide, what does it matter if they are overseas? It’s only a video.’
So then I found out there were two people in the UK so I emailed them and as it turns out one of them did the Bugs Bunny voice in the last Looney Tunes movie. He didn’t reply.
Then I found Zach, a flight attendant.
When I was Googling Bugs Bunny impersonators, Zach’s video came up. So I said to the team member, ‘I wonder if we can get this guy to do the message?’.
But how was I going to find him, there were millions of flight attendants in the US! I thought we had no hope.
I went to Google and put in Southwest Airlines and Looney Tunes and read every article that came up.
And finally, I found his name.
I then I went to Facebook and found a Facebook fans page and sent a message. I explained the wish and how we needed Bugs Bunny.
Four days later he replied back saying ‘Hi Chris I would love to do a message for you’. I jumped out of the seat and I was punching the air.
I remember sitting at my table, hands on my head, thinking there was a way to do this but I just haven’t found it.
I just kept going, trying to find a way through it. I can’t tell you how happy I was.
I was starting to feel disappointed, if this doesn’t come true, I would feel like I have let the wish child Bronte down.
That was September 2021 and I thought the puppy presentation was going to be before Xmas. But we found out that the wish would be next year in February or March.
So I said to Zach (pictured above) ‘would it be stretching the friendship to task you to do two videos’ and he said ‘no, not at all’.
I said I wanted two distinct videos: a Christmas video not mentioning Make-A-Wish or the puppy, just a Merry Xmas from Bugs Bunny.
It was amazing. So, we sent that to Bronte.
Then he did the other one for Make-A-Wish and got the terminology so right, it was like he from Make-A-Wish.
He gave some tips, saying give the puppy lots of walks and cuddles.
He told me that Bugs Bunny eats carrots with the green stalk. And most stores cut the stalk off but he remembered from his childhood there was a store so he drove 30 minutes to the store and they still had those carrots.
He got the same carrot as Bugs Bunny has! Even in the video he said ‘look it’s got a stalk on it’.
We did the presentation of the video.
We went to her house and we were in her backyard, spaced out because of COVID precautions.
It was six o’clock in the evening and 2 o’clock in New York where Zach was. We played the video on my IPad and we used my phone to do a FaceTime call with Zach.
So, Zach could see Bronte as she watched his video. We played the video and said to Bronte ‘would you like to talk to the man who is in that video and she said yes’.
And I said ‘say hello to Zach’. It was really nice. He could see Bronte’s reaction. I think speaking to the creator was something extra for her.
We had a cake made by Cake Angels with an image the same as the dog she was getting.
It felt like Zach was part of the Wish Team, he went to a lot of effort. The puppy was presented sometime later, when we were in lockdown.
What people didn’t know in the Branch was that while we were organising these videos a friendship was developing between Zach and I.
The first time I spoke to Zach it was for two hours.
Once we did the presentation we were still talking together as mates. The presentation was in March and I was going to the states in September and going to New York so I thought I would go see him as well. I can’t tell you how much I was bursting with excitement.
Every time I went to a Branch meeting I so wanted to tell the Branch and eventually I said ‘do you remember Zach? I will be in New York meeting him’ and I remember their reaction ‘that’s crazy!’.
The wish just kept getting bigger and bigger! That was very cool.
One day, Zach said he loved Blinky Bill, he used to watch it as a kid.
I told him Blinky Bill’s voiceover artist is Make-A-Wish’s national patron Robyn Moore (pictured above). I said you have one degree of separation from Blinky Bill and it’s me!
I thought it would be cool for Robyn to do a video.
She said she would absolutely love to do it and it was sensational! It was so detailed and well-prepared. She picked up everything that I could want her to.
Earlier this year, Zach’s mother sent me a copy of a letter she received from Make-A-Wish America, thanking her for her donation.
I asked her if she used to donate to Make A Wish prior to meeting me and prior to Zach making his videos for Make-A-Wish.
She told me she did, but it was very sporadic and infrequent, however since meeting me and hearing all the Make-A-Wish stories, she now donates regularly.
How amazing is that? A wish in Melbourne has resulted in a family in New York becoming regular donors to Make-A-Wish. I think it’s unbelievable.
Setting an example for others to follow
I loved that my whole branch went along for the ride with Bronte's wish. (Fellow volunteer) Rick said at a Branch meeting ‘we need to do what Chris has done'.
He went on to say: 'We think local, just our local area but Chris has extended our horizons internationally and I think we should extend the Make-A-Wish arms around the world’.
That meant a lot. My wish has impacted others, made people think. I think it might get other volunteers to think about how they do wishes. To think outside the box. When you work hard you get better results.
Rick also said on another wish ‘just do what Chris did, email people and they might say yes’. I love the fact Rick said ‘just do what Chris did’.
You see how amazingly resilient the wish parents are.
One mum had a child with cancer and her mum was also in hospital too with a broken hip.
A child in The Royal Children’s Hospital and mum at Austin Hospital but she was as positive as anything. When you see people these resilient, then I think my life isn’t that hard.
The parents are amazing, I guess because they think they have to get their child through whatever it is.
They must feel like falling in a heap. They adopt a mindset of ‘I am going to get my child through this’.
I have learnt lots of skills from Make-A-Wish that I can take to my workplace. And I think this is one thing people who don’t volunteer don’t realise.
Like (fellow volunteer) Tamara Paton is a great communications professional, so my communications skills have developed.
As a manager the way I communicate with staff, I don’t discipline them now. Whereas 30 years ago I would. Now it’s about educating staff. How I manage staff has been impacted by things I have learnt from people in Make-A-Wish.
What I love about the kids and the wish presentations, is I can be a kid too.
In the adult world you have to act like adults. But with wish kids you can laugh, muck around and roll around on the floor.
Actually, I can’t roll around on the floor as I can’t get up anymore!
'Legend' inspires others in Branch
When I think about Make-A-Wish it’s the friendships I have formed over 25 years.
I get embarrassed when people use words like ‘legend’ to describe me. I am just another human being.
There’s nothing special with me.
What I did for Bronte’s wish is what I do for all my wishes.
I think it’s because when I joined it was all about magical presentations. I remember I had a child who was going on The Ghan and the presentation was at Essendon Airport and I organised for the Police Air Wing to take them on a flight around Melbourne.
Dad and the wish child went in the helicopter and then mum and the other child were in the control centre at Essendon Airport so they could talk to each other.
The wish child said to his younger brother ‘we are flying over our house’ and the younger brother on the commercial air radio said ‘can you see Mopsy and Flopsy’ and they were their rabbits.
And he said ‘no I can’t see Mopsy and Flopsy’. I love that kind of innocence.
It’s a very supportive Branch.
There’s a couple of people in the branch over 60 but nearly everyone is under 60.
They have families, they are professional working people, and it’s really good mix.
And the Branch is now 50/50 when it comes to males and females. Because we have younger and older people, male and female, we get lots of different ideas.
If there is a public speaking engagement, we will have a volunteer to fit with the audience. I love the fact we have people from their 20s all the way to their 60s or 70s.
It’s a very warm and welcoming branch. They are very kind people. They tell me that I am the backbone of the branch. I don’t like it.
They have told me it many times. The reason they say it is that whenever people have their 5, 10, 15-year celebration they would get a certificate from national office.
And at our meeting we would hand out the certificate. I thought that could be better.
So, when I was the Volunteer Care Coordinator they would get a card, flowers, a cake and we would make a speech.
Because I had been there longer than anyone else, I would try and say things that were specifics, like ‘I remember when you did this or that’ and they notice it.
(President) Sophie said to me ‘this branch wouldn’t be what it was without you’.
I was thrilled a couple of months ago I was working and I couldn’t go to a meeting.
When I caught up later they said so and so celebrated 10 years and we got them a card and flowers and a cake and they did it when I wasn’t there.
It’s awesome when you do something – like the Bugs Bunny wish – and people see it and go ‘we need to do that’. It’s lovely when you can impact people.
Chris has been proudly volunteering since 1998