“We don’t choose the families we were born into. Each person has his or her own circumstances and situations must not dictate how your life will turn out.” This was some of Dr Billy Gallagher’s encouraging words to the University of Johannesburg (UJ) community), mostly tourism and hospitality students, young chefs, industry partners and academics, at his talk on Wednesday, 13 May 2015.
Dr Billy Gallagher shared his life story as a young boy raised in a middle-class family in the United Kingdom and moving to South Africa, at the School of Tourism and Hospitality’s (STH) Protea Auditorium. He narrated the highs and lows of working as a chef in South Africa, how his career blossomed and the tragic incident that led to his paraplegia about fifteen years ago.
His talk was mostly motivational. “If you really want to be successful in this industry, you will have to learn to be friendly, communicate with people, smile and work hard. Business is about finding out, if you don’t know; ask the experts or someone else. Find mentors and learn from them,” said Dr Gallagher.
He added: “Regardless of where you started, you can get there. As a young individual, when I didn’t have any education, no bursaries, there was still life out there. I was not privileged nor from a rich family. But I worked hard, I loved what I did and today I am comfortable with what I have done. You (students) have the opportunity to educate yourselves and become better. You don’t have to be old to become a master in your profession. Find and work with smart people, pay attention to what they say and you will come right.”
Among many great influencing people that shaped Dr Gallagher’s work ethic were former statesman Nelson Mandela, Robert Nograd, Johnny Rivers, Ron Stringfellow, Sol Kerzner, and Meyer Kahn, to mention but a few. A few years ago, Dr Gallagher received a letter from the US President Barrack Obama wishing him, and other chefs around the world, well on his quest to end hunger around the world.
“Never hold yourself back because you think you are not educated enough. One night as I was going home, I was shot in a hijacking and I was paralysed. As I was later recovering in hospital, I asked myself if I was going to sit back and not try – I decided to move on with life. What motivates me in life is: the need to do things, to keep busy, to communicate with people, and to make a difference. Everyone has a situation, but they carry on in order to live,” he said.
Dr Gallagher signed a few copies of his book, Lettuce or a Lady’s Breast. Looking back over 50 years of cooking, and gave them to the students that attended the talk.