Real leadership and hope . . .

Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.
– Albert Schweitzer

In the mid-1970’s I was introduced to a fascinating medical and health education organization working on the Amazon River.  The organization is Esperança and is the brain child of Father Luke Tupper.  Esperança means “hope” in Portuguese.

Luke, a former Navy and Marine Corps doctor, witnessed the medical deprivation of the children of South America. When his military service was completed he entered the Franciscan Order. After his ordination Father Luke was assigned to Brazil and began the overwhelming task of bringing medical care to the people of that region.

Luke had a brilliant idea (most people thought he was crazy), and with the help of his businessman brother, Jerry, they raised funds and bought the old Coronado Ferry that carried passengers across San Diego Bay back and forth to Coronado Island.  They refitted the boat into a floating hospital with a small surgery and shipped it to the Amazon River.  Doctors and nurses from the US and Europe would volunteer two to three weeks of their time to work on the boat fixing cleft palates, club feet and other surgical needs of children.  As a result of their work thousands of  children now have a chance for a normal and productive life.

As the organization grew they provided more and more medical and health education to the indigenous tribes along the Amazon, teaching primary and secondary health care, such as basic hygiene, safe drinking water, how to dig wells, how to treat diarrhea in babies, as well as giving vaccinations for polio, small pox, measles and other diseases. Esperança grew into a major health education foundation and even helped establish a university along the Amazon for health training and advanced education.  Imagine helping educate local people to educate others – a gift that multiplies.

That’s when I got involved and met a most remarkable couple, Ron and Vera Bertagnoli, who were the directors of Esperança in Brazil.  Ron is an American who moved to Brazil and with Vera they were the guiding lights of the organization until their retirement. I hadn’t seen Ron in 20-plus years so when he came through London yesterday we had lunch and a good long catch up.  It’s not easy devoting your life to helping others but in my mind, Luke Tupper and Ron and Vera are real saints, and definitely real leaders.  In fact, Vera is the Executive Director of the Rotary for the entire Amazon basin.

We shared stories about our lives, as friends do and talked about our next set of adventures in trying to make the world a better place (neither of us are interested in retirement).  Ron has gone on to found an offshoot organization, Amazon Africa to find additional ways to help those in need.  They are bringing hope for children in war torn Angola and other ravaged countries.

When I think of the term “Masters of the Universe” I think of Father Luke Tupper and Ron and Vera Bertagnoli, not Gordon Gecko or Fred Goodwin.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E |      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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