My time is coming to an end, so what harm can come of my blowing my own trumpet for a while?
My name, as I have learned in St Lucia, is Mr. Walker, but I like to be called Michael; I am no respecter of titles. I used to be a leading authority in the field of English as a Second Language and Teaching Methodology, traveling the world, sometimes for as many as 200 days a year, lecturing at colleges and universities on every continent. I am the author of well over 650 textbooks that have sold more than 120 million copies worldwide in the past half century. I think I know something about education!
Our daughter, a doctor of physiotherapy, and her similarly qualified American husband, have their own medical facility in Colorado; our son married a St Lucian girl and has his own computer based educational publishing business in Sweden.
Though a through-and-through teacher, I have always had a keen eye for business. When I started writing books and considerable royalties started rolling in, I came to realise that my royalties, though substantial, were nothing compared to what others were making off the products of my intellect. So I got myself appointed to the board of the publishing house that published my works; then I bought the publishing house; then I acquired the printing facility that produced my books – all the time adding to my store of knowledge of the educational publishing industry – and incidentally, benefitting from the profits made on my books at each stage. I was just at home in the editing suite, at a computer in the layout room, chatting to designers, working the presses in the printing shop, or in the boardrooms of international publishing houses. I also spent hours on the road with members of the sales team. I got to know the business inside out.
Our son Martin, who already had his own educational recording studios, realized way before anyone else what was happening in the world of publishing, and transformed what was a paper-print publishing house into an Internet Publishing House; like father, like son.
When asked why my books have been such a worldwide success, I always say, “They are simple. With a little effort and analysis, the most complicated issues can be broken down into simple, easy to follow steps – and that makes the contents of my books learnable and teachable. Both student and teacher have to be satisfied, and they have to succeed. Without success there’s no satisfaction on either side.”
For more than 20 years, my life has been a philanthropic merry-go-round of service to my adopted country Saint Lucia. As members of the Rotary Club of Gros Islet, my wife and I have conducted art and painting classes and flower arrangement classes for teachers to give children new skills and make them more aware of the beauty that surrounds them; we have donated, with the help of Rotary, numerous sewing machines to schools and arranged sewing classes for teachers.
On two occasions when my North American publishers wanted to celebrate a landmark sales event – when one of my series passed the USD$25,000,000 mark, for example – I persuaded them to donate my books to the value of 2.8 million EC dollars to Saint Lucian schools; this was during Kenny Anthony’s first term in office in the 1990s. Almost two decades later, those books in the ESL series are still being used in schools throughout the island – and those books have never appeared on the Ministry’s approved list! I can smile when I recall that the donation cost me EC$280,000 in royalties (10%) that I did not receive because the books were donated as gifts.
About that time, my doctor wife Inger started a dental project in the north under the auspices of the Rotary Club of Gros Islet to provide free dental care to primary school children. Screening showed that on average each child had up to nine cavities. Three years later, the children were cavity free! Mobile dental chairs and dedicated dental therapists had solved the problem by traveling round to all 11 schools in the north. Inger spent many hours with parents and teachers explaining the advantages of good dental health.
Has it been worth it? I think so. The immediate satisfaction of seeing things work, of seeing people appreciate the value of what is being done, is thanks enough. With time, you learn to ignore the pain of knowing that almost nothing is sustainable. So much goes to waste because nobody really cares.