By Mark Palm,
Samaritan Aviation founder
“You save one life, you are saving the nation”.
I wanted to take a moment to share some stories about one of the most charismatic, genuine people I have ever met.
Late Sir Michael had a gift of making you feel like he was your best friend, and that he truly cared about the conversation he was having with you.
I guess the word I’m looking for is he was always “present” when I had the opportunity to speak with him.
I remember the first time I met the Grand Chief.
It was in 2010 and my family and I had recently moved to Wewak to start full-time operations with Samaritan Aviation and the Saman Balus (float plane).
He was prime minister at the time and came to the airport to meet us and to present a cheque to Samaritan Aviation.
He was keen to support our efforts to save lives in the remote river and lake communities of the Sepik River.
Kirsten (my wife) and I were very nervous as we explained to our kids that a very important person was coming to meet with us and that it would be like meeting the President of the United States! I also told them that they had better behave or else!
We waited at the floatplane as several cars made their way into the airport gate and stopped a few feet away. I remember feeling immediately at ease as he came smiling towards us and shook our hands and even took the time to meet the kids and ask them questions about living in PNG. I let him know that we would get the kids off to the side so we could begin the cheque presentation and of course the speeches!
He just smiled and insisted that the kids stay for the presentation and talked about how important family was. I’ve never forgotten that first moment or the many times I’ve had the privilege to speak with him over the years. I have personally been blessed by his example and gracious disposition and Samaritan Aviation has been blessed with many years of financial support because of his passion to serve those in the remote communities.
One quote he made during one of our Samaritan Aviation video interviews has always stayed with me. He said: “You save one life, you are saving the nation!”
Thank you Sir for being a partner with us to serve those without access and hope in the remote communities of PNG.
Your legacy will live on through Samaritan Aviation and all of those you have touched in PNG and around the world.
As I was finishing this tribute I broke out softly in a song with tears in my eyes singing Take Me Home Country Road by John Denver. This was a song I heard him sing with enthusiasm during many of our Sepik golf championship dinners at the Wewak Golf Club.
Momis remembers colleague who mapped PNG’s road to Independence
CHIEF Dr John Momis recalls an encounter with late Sir Michael Thomas Somare back in their younger days in Wewak, East Sepik.
“Fate must have brought us together over barbecue and beer. Little did we know that soon we would be working together and forge a pathway for this nation,” Momis said.
“I was then full of idealism and pragmatism. The combination of two different yet attuned minds resulted in greater efforts to trail-blaze a path not many at that time dared tread.”
Momis told of how his and Sir Michael’s ideals were influenced by the events of the tumultuous 60s when young men in America were sent to war in Vietnam, where personalities such as Martin Luther King and the Kennedys were taking the world by storm with their ideals and advocacies, the impending encroachment of communism, the construction of the Berlin wall, the Cuban Missile crisis, Civil rights protest among others.
“If there is anyone who would have known Sir Michael up close as a person. I consider myself honoured and privileged.”
Momis said while Sir Michael had his flaws and his critics and dissenters for 49 years in public service, the father of the nation gave his life to the people of PNG.
“He was true to his commitment to the people. He pursued relentlessly the right to be free and pushed to unify a diverse country like PNG.”
Momis said instead of shrinking from the challenges of his time like the fear of independence and the injustices of colonialism, Sir Michael literally gave himself to pursue his vision of an inspiring future for PNG.
“It was a mark of a true leader when he took the bold step of making things happen and taking ownership of major decisions unpopular as they might have been.
“He was fearless and stood up for the marginalised and led the nation when many people believed that they would not be successful.
“Upon my election in 1972, he made me deputy and working chairman of the constitutional planning committee paving the way for everything that we citizens are enjoying now,” he said.
Momis said he was later made minister for decentralisation which opened more doors of opportunities for governance and development in every province in PNG.
“Our professional relationship was never near perfect. We had clashes and disagreements in many instances. There came even a point where I challenged and stood up against him. This however did not deter us from reconciling and collaborating to secure the best collective interests of PNG. How can you turn against a man who all the way was a sincere and charismatic politician?
“Sir Michael clearly understood that parliament is the best venue where one can do the most good for the whole country, where his commitment to serve the people is unparalleled, where collegiality or first among equals (primus inter pares) took precedence in his leadership style.
“All these things clearly indicated the quality of a true leader who never assumed that he was better than anybody else.”
Momis, on behalf of the people of Bougainville, expressed his heartfelt gratitude to Sir Michael who together with Sir Paul Lapun stood up for the rights of the landowners against miner CRA and the colonial government when many leaders opted to “look the other way and keep quiet.”
“Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare understood and supported the people’s aspirations and grievance and rights not to mention that we were the first provincial government to be recognised under the vision of decentralisation.
“Farewell Sir Michael, my friend, and thank you for all that you have done and have been to PNG.”
“ Don’t worry about him, I’ll stand for the elections and win. And when I win, he will pack up and go.” – Sir Michael