Behind The Wish - Lawrie
Meet Lawrie Leeman - a magnificent Make-A-Wish volunteer of 21 years.
As part of the Melbourne Branch, Lawrie has been pivotal in many wishes coming true in Melbourne and Victoria.
Behind The Wish is our series of inspirational reads diving into the everyday superheroes involved in creating life-changing wishes.
Oil, cricket and family
I was born and raised in Gardenvale, Melbourne. I went to Melbourne High School. I am an only child; they didn’t want to make the same mistake twice they told me (laughs).
I was almost spoilt; I didn’t lack for anything. I didn’t lack for love. It was a very warm environment. The whole family circle was very good to me.
My parents were two genuine people. Dad worked through till he was 65, when you had to retire. He was a hard worker. They were good role models.
During the war, he couldn’t be called up because of the role he was in so he was an Air Raid Prevention warden during the war which was supporting people who stayed back.
That was a form of volunteering, looking back, that I hadn’t considered.
I was born in 1938, I am 85. When I left school I joined Golden Fleece, the oil company. I was with them for five or six years and finished up in Warracknabeal in the Wimmera.
I was an oil rep. I joined the plastics industry for 40 years.
They started off as Union Carbine then changed the name to Exon Mobil and ultimately Qenos.
The biggest involvement I had was the introduction of the plastic milk bottle. It was meant to start small but it just took off overnight. The original test was with the gallon bottle – the four litre – but people didn’t accept it. The two litre was the one that worked.
My wife passed away twenty years ago; we had two kids.
I met my current wife Robyn 18 years ago.
I became life member of the Vermont South Cricket Club. I was mainly a batsman and a bit of wicketkeeping.
I scored 2500 runs for the club. I didn’t start playing there till I was 30-something.
I became a life member because we started the club.
I umpired footy; I enjoyed it. I never reported anybody. My simple approach was if I have to take you to the tribunal, I’ll be the biggest enemy you have ever met.
They calmed down. You just needed a little bit of logic.
I was in Adelaide for five years. I was chair of the school council there for three years.
Between Robyn and I, we have five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Lawrie touched by grandaughter's wish journey
Robyn and I are both 21 years this year with Make-A-Wish. Robyn joined first.
We had met through the plastics industry and in discussions with Robyn I had mentioned about Tegan’s health.
Tegan (pictured) is my granddaughter and she received a wish from Make-A-Wish.
I told them how impressed I was but at that stage I had no thought to join Make-A-Wish.
But I was so impressed with what they did and how they went about it.
At age 7, Tegan was diagnosed pulmonary hypertension. Initially we prepared to lose her.
And then the specialist at The Royal Children’s Hospital said ‘we have got a pill and we will put her on it and she’ll have a normal life until 12’.
And he said ‘then I don’t know what we are going to do’.
I’m not exaggerating, she turned 12 and two weeks later the pill stopped working and the doctor turned around to her mother, Karen, and said ‘there is a drug, it’s invasive because we have to put a line through her body into her heart’.
It was medication that had to be changed every 24 hours. She had to wear a pump so it would flow through her body.
It had been successful in people aged 25 to 40 and he said ‘do you want to give it a go’ and of course Karen said yes.
Within 10 days Tegan is running around the ward. And she never looked back. It’s now 22 years on. The professor at the hospital called her his miracle child.
She is well today but restricted, she can’t go swimming because she’s still hooked up to a pump and she won’t be able to have children. But she’s enjoying life, she’s full of fun. She has a wonderful attitude to life.
Her wish, when she was 7, was for a computer.
We just thought it would be a computer but what we were blown away by was by the desk, chair, printer, the whole lot. It was brilliant.
This lady came out with another one and they said ‘we are taking the three girls out for the afternoon and this bloke will arrive’. Sure enough they went out one door and he came in another and set it all up.
Tegan came home and they presented her with the computer and she was thrilled to bits with it.
'The only time I saw the boy smile was that afternoon'
Ultimately, we joined the Melbourne Branch of Make-A-Wish. It might have been 12 to 18 months after.
Our daughter was invited to go to a Make-A-Wish Ball at the St Kilda football ground.
Patti Newton and Denise Drysdale were there as guest entertainers, they did it for free.
It was a big event, there were hundreds there and my daughter Karen was invited to speak.
She’d never done this before in her life and she’s sitting at the table trembling and she got up and she spoke from the heart.
And it just registered with me then how big an impact that wish had been, not just on Tegan, but on Karen as well. I hadn’t been living in their house so I hadn’t quite seen it.
And that’s when I thought, Make-A-Wish is what I would like to do. I wanted to make a contribution.
My first wish was up in the hills. It was a little girl and she wanted a puppy dog.
You have got to be satisfied that the wish the child gives you is their wish.
It’s not their sibling’s wish or mum and dad’s wish.
I remember a child asking for a Steinway grand piano, about $15,000 and he was only six years old. You got to be sure it’s what a child wants.
You have to write a report saying you’re satisfied what the child’s wish is.
Then usually within two or three months the wheels would turn.
Funds were a lot more plentiful back then and the number of wishes weren’t as high as now. Now there’s more than 900 on the books.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg, there are thousands who could apply but don’t.
Robyn and I have each done over 50 wishes.
One that always comes to mind is this little boy who was seriously ill. He wanted to see Ratatouille before it had come out.
The movie about the rat that cooks. National office contacted the distributor of the film and they said ‘yes we are prepared to lease it out to you for one afternoon’.
We contacted a theatre in Northcote and they were prepared to open up the theatre to the whole school he was going to. And every kid got a bag of lollies. We put the wish child in a limousine, we red-carpeted him when he arrived in his wheelchair.
One of our volunteers dressed up as Bob the Builder. Anyway, the only time I saw that boy smile was that afternoon.
And the wish child’s dad sang a song to him in that theatre.
All about how proud he was of his son. You never forget that. It was at the main interval. I was in trouble, I had to walk out.
I didn’t see the end of Ratatouille. The dad was just incredible, an amazing man. Unfortunately, the boy passed away three or four months later.
Lawrie does his lion's share of wishes
This other wish kid, he was in The Royal Children’s Hospital and he wanted to see his pet dog.
His wish was to go to the zoo. To see the lions and reptiles. The zoo agreed to allow I think 13 of us to go however because of his medical condition the hospital said two nurses have to go with him.
That was fine. And we put a limo on for him. The zoo opened it up for us.
We were on the inside of the lion’s enclosure. I could see the public on the other side of the fence. He had raw meat in his hands and he was putting it under the cage and the lions are licking the raw meat off his hand. Unbelievable.
And we go to the reptiles enclosure and he is handling snakes and baby crocodiles. I am over the other side of the room of course. He was just in seventh heaven.
His dad mentioned that he would love to see his puppy dog but told us it’s in Warrnambool. We gave it a bit of thought.
We happened to have our son and daughter-in-law living in Camperdown and anyway the short story is the people who were looking after the dog drove to Camperdown, my daughter-in-law picked it up and drove it to Geelong and Robyn and I went to Geelong and picked him up, took him into the hospital and they said the boy had three hours between medications.
And then later we reversed the process and took the dog back home. We lost this boy too, but the wish and the time he spent with his dog meant the world.
We have a little wish girl who is now 25 and we have been to many of her birthday parties. Her wish was to go to an aquarium.
I was awarded an OAM. It was to do with Make-A-Wish, our work in Cambodia and the cricket club.
And the Office of the Public Advocate, Robyn and I give our time for that.
For 10 years we and another Make-A-Wish couple, Christine and John Morphet (pictured above), have been going to Cambodia and helping families out of our own pockets.
We have been working with a charity called Rice For Cambodia which a lady started 19 years ago.
We attended a couple of events and one of the things they were doing was distributing rice to 40 families every month.
One time we were in Cambodia and had the privilege of handing the rice out and I tell you what it’s a great privilege.
Five years ago, she chose to shut the charity down and we said to her ‘look don’t shut it down we are prepared to take it over’. Six of us that stage – there’s now 11 on the board – took it over.
And we have run it for the last five years.
We feed 62 families a month, we build toilet blocks and we have taken a primary school from rubbish status to one of the better schools in the district.
They are beautiful people. I have been over there 18 times.
I got my OAM in 2018. I couldn’t believe it. Luckily my son and daughter, Robyn and the guy who put me forward for it were able to come along to the presentation.
It was incredible, I can’t deny that for a moment but you look at what some of the other people do and you say to yourself ‘wow there’s so many people out there deserving of that honour’.
I have enjoyed getting the Make-A-Wish name out there. We have done Bunnings barbecues for years. Our record was 1164 sausages. We are very proud of that one.
Robyn has run four balls. Successful balls that raised a lot of money. Cocktail parties, golf days. Robyn’s an event manager, that’s her profession. We have done trivia nights.
We did Christmas parties. We didn’t start it but we took it on. Ran it for five or six years.
But it was costing a lot so we went to Barry Plant the real estate agency and they said yes and so they ran it.
I believe still today they are donating thousands each year as part of Wishtober.
Hair chops and lunches to raise money
I was president for five years and in that time a Melbourne Grammar teacher approached us with an idea.
He said ‘I’m going to get the kids to crop their hair and they have got to be sponsored and I have chosen Make-A-Wish’.
We had to speak at the assembly and explain to the kids about Make-A-Wish and it raised $7000.
Next year we thought they would choose some other charity but he rang the next year and said ‘that went so well let’s have another go’ so we did it again.
Robyn said it would work better if we could take a wish family along and that’s what we did and that second year it raised $12,000.
And out of the blue one of the schoolboys was having his bar mitzvah and he went to his parents and said ‘I want to donate my bar mitzvah money to Make A Wish.’ It was $30,000.
That event alone has raised $258,000.
The Dandenong Chamber of Commerce were running a grand final luncheon and they asked if we wanted to help run it. At the end of two years, they asked if they wanted us to keep going. That’s brought in about $130,000.
(Make-A-Wish board member) Stephen Sharp got us involved in a bridge club, that’s raised $30,000 over the years.
Six years ago, we moved to the country. When we moved, we joined the branch in Gippsland for about three years.
We helped the branch in Bairnsdale for a few years but then we were told we couldn’t be in two branches at the same time.
So, we had to decide and I said ‘we got to stay involved with Melbourne because of the three fundraising events we have’. That’s why we stay involved.
We can’t do wishes from here. We didn’t do any in Bairnsdale either, we had done wishes so we wanted local volunteers to have the opportunity.
Wish experience rewarding for Lawrie
It’s still great to do something positive for the Melbourne Branch.
Last year we attended the hair cropping and the Dandenong Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
We came to a Melbourne Branch meeting last night and sit was wonderful how they greeted us.
It makes you feel guilty that you should come down more often but it’s a bit hard (because it’s a four-hour trip).
I was surprised how many of the volunteers we knew. There was only about three of the new ones we didn’t know. But we were glad we did it.
Sophie (president) came up last night and said thanks for coming.
The satisfaction of changing lives of kids and taking their minds off a terrible time in their lives, is what it’s all about. I haven’t met any parents who haven’t been appreciative of what Make-A-Wish have done.
The wish parents sometimes feel guilty that they are letting their other kids down.
But, you know, their focus has got to go on the sick child. I know that from experience with Tegan. For six or eight months we had the other two grandchildren at home with us.
They were only 3 and 5. We would drive them into the hospital to see their sister.
That’s why it’s so important when we do grant a wish, like a travel wish, all the siblings go on it. That blows families away. I have seen the faces when we have walked in and said ‘your wish has been granted and you’re going on your travel wish’ and they say ‘that’s fantastic, who will look after Johnny when he goes’ and I would say ‘well you are all going with Johnny’.
They didn’t have any idea the whole family would go on the wish. That’s a wonderful reaction to see.
I hope what I have done brought some happiness and satisfaction to the 50 families I had the privilege to meet. It’s as simple as that. That’s all that it was about.
Even the kids we did lose, it’s sad, but I know we did make a difference. That’s the key to it all.
It’s just very rewarding. I guess you take pride in what you have achieved because you have helped other people.
And you’re lucky to be in the position to do it. We are not all given that opportunity.
Lawrie has been proudly volunteering since 2002