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speeches image

NOTE: I’ve written a lot of speeches, especially during my years with the Palmer Chiropractic University System. The following is one for Vickie Palmer, the great-granddaughter of the profession’s founder. She delivered it to the California Chiropractic Association, but it was her chiropractic centennial message to the entire profession. It was a call for the profession to exhibit courage in facing its future, and she wanted to make three requests, even challenges, to the profession—to take a long range view rather than be intimidated by opposition, to become more open to the opinions of others both inside and outside the profession, and to be willing to change with the times. The approach here was intended to fit with her gracious and self-effacing personality, making it a quiet and modest appeal rather than a strident call to arms. Do you think it succeeded?

Vickie Palmer’s Centennial Message:

What Our Centennial Year Means to Me

Being the great-granddaughter of the founder of chiropractic, speaking to a group of chiropractors, reminds me of that old quip about becoming Liz Taylor’s fifth husband. I know what’s expected of me, but I’m not sure I can make it interesting.

I’m supposed to speak about chiropractic history, a fine topic in this Centennial year. Yet, in a sense it’s a challenge to make chiropractic history interesting to Californians because California has made as much chiropractic history as anybody. D.D. Palmer practiced in Pasadena and Santa Barbara as early as 1902. He was arrested in that year for practicing with a license, but the complaint was dismissed after a brief court hearing.

As many of you know, the Palmer College librarian, Dennis Peterson, and the Palmer archivist, Glenda Weise, have just published a 500-page book entitled Chiropractic—an Illustrated History. It is a rich compilation of articles and photographs about the entire profession. Historian Russell Gibbons contributed an article about the hundreds of arrests of chiropractors in California in the first part of this century. Let me read you an excerpt:

As arrests continued, fighting spirits rose. Among the more sensational cases was that of J.E. and Reba I. Willis of Porterville. On December 8, 1920, “their office was ransacked by two investigators and their patients insulted,” according to (historian Chittenden) Turner, and they themselves were placed under arrest. The local magistrate released them under bond to appear in the superior court for the arraignment on January 24, when they were sentenced to 100 days in jail or the payment of $200. The Willises chose imprisonment and said good-bye to their 3-year-old twin girls at the jail door. It was the first time a mother had been incarcerated and much indignant comment was voiced. Letters came to the jail from foreign countries, “all told, more than 100,000 pieces of mail are said to have been received by the imprisoned couple,” Turner concluded. 

Well, leaving your children at the jail house door is really something! I’ve hear that caring for twins is pretty tough, but going to jail instead seems a bit much. It could only have been because of faith in the chiropractic principle.

Obviously, then, in the annals of chiropractic history here in California there are plenty of lessons and lots of inspiration. I’m afraid that my own history, despite growing up in chiropractic’s most famous family, is far less dramatic. My life was in many ways quite ordinary. Still, I suppose there a few lessons to be shared, perhaps even a little inspiration as well.

So, what does the Centennial mean to me and to my family? It means more than I can articulate. Especially when I think of it in terms of 100 years of helping millions of people—millions of people. The thought is simply staggering. I have so much pride and such a sense of responsibility to carry on. My family and I have been enriched by knowing and working with so many talented, enthusiastic and giving people in the chiropractic profession.

Growing up as a child I had a sense that my family was different. Little did I realize what a significant impact my family name made upon chiropractic history. I grew up, dealing with life as one of David Palmer’s daughters. Being associated with chiropractic, especially in a small town like Davenport, Iowa, wasn’t nearly as well accepted then as it is now. My sisters and I lived in a sort of glass house, and we were often puzzled by the whispers and snide remarks. Things are quite different now, and we all can be glad of that.

I’m often asked, “What was B.J. like?” Actually, there are many, many people still around who knew him far better than I did. By the time I was old enough to understand much about him he was living in Sarasota, Florida, and we were in Davenport, Iowa. I do remember he was a very commanding presence. And, to this day when I walk into a room and detect a certain cigar smell, I remember B.J.

On the other hand, I recognized early on that my father also was somebody special, not only because of his role at Palmer College but also because of his standing in the Davenport community. He was on so many boards and received so many honors that I soon realized he and the Palmer family had a mission that set us apart.

My father was extremely gracious and persistent even under adverse circumstances—something I also try to be. I remember that he applied to become a member of Davenport’s exclusive Outing Club and kept getting blackballed because he was a chiropractor. He just kept on applying. He always kept his frustrations under control and never gave up.

My father, like D.D. and B.J. Palmer before him, was a visionary and an optimist. They all refused to be discouraged or intimidated by the ups and downs of circumstance. They kept their conviction that chiropractic was an effective route to better health and that, if they concentrated on helping people, things would eventually work out all right. They kept the faith, and that is something our profession needs to do into the next century.

The lesson I learned from my father—and it’s been confirmed by my business experience as well—is to have a long-range view sustained by confidence and seasoned with a sense of humor. The brook would lose its song if we removed the rocks. No matter how bleak things seem, defeats today have a way of becoming victories tomorrow.

Did you hear the story about the two out-of-work cowboys? They read that the U.S. Cavalry was paying a bounty of $10 for every Indian brought in. So they signed up, headed for Indian Territory, pitched their tent and went to sleep.

In the middle of the night, one of them heard something outside the tent and stuck his head out to take a look. There in the light of the moon, surrounding the tent, were about a thousand Indians in war-paint armed to the teeth. The cowboy reached back into the tent, shook his partner and yelled, “Tex! Wake up! We’re rich!”
People, even opposers, can make us rich in a more important way. A lot of my childhood memories involve meeting a wide variety of people. I can remember that when I was seven or eight years old my father would assign me and my sisters stations in the old Palmer cafeteria during Homecoming. We would shake hands and talk to the interesting people filing by. They came from differing backgrounds and from throughout the world. There was a feeling of idealism and confidence communicated there.

My father believed it was important for people in the profession to know the Palmer family, and he conveyed to his children his keen sense that, in a way, the family belonged to the entire profession.

From that comes lesson number two. As John Donne put it, “No man is an island.” No woman either. We belong to each other. We need each other. We need to broaden our horizons and learn to understand rather than condemn people with differing points of view. My family usually went traveling during the summers. We girls would gripe about it because we wanted to spend the summers with our friends in Davenport. Still, we learned a lot about other people and cultures by traveling around the world. We learned that the world was a bigger place than just our own backyard.

During this Centennial year we all have a wonderful opportunity to widen our horizons and forge new bonds of fellowship. This is the time that every one of us should have unity of our profession in mind. We also need to deepen our understanding of something my dad clearly understood, that non-chiropractors have much to offer our profession; we need to accept educators and other professionals who will work with us and then give them the credit they deserve for advancing our cause. And especially in the managed care environment, we need to reach out to understand and work with professionals in other health care fields.

So I’ll put what the Centennial means to me into the form of a wish for our profession: That we become ever more unified, ever more cooperative and ever more gracious to those whose viewpoints differ from our own. Will you consider doing that?

The next century is sure to bring many changes, which draws to mind one more memory I can share. I remember the jobs I held at Palmer College as a young adult, especially my stint as a switchboard operator when the telephone system involved the old plugs and cords. I still remember my first day on the job and how nervous I was that I’d get some important person plugged into the wrong office. That level of technology seems so primitive now, and when I think back I sometimes wonder why I was nervous. It was an experience that I learned a lesson from. Technology, and for that matter, any change, can be intimidating. For example, the developments in just the last several months involving computerization, the Internet and so-called cyberspace are absolutely staggering. But we don’t have to be intimidated. Perhaps we can use the new technology to enhance chiropractic research, to improve office procedures, to promote healthier lifestyles.

Changes in the health care system are also coming in quantum leaps. I am so gratified by the recognition that chiropractic has received lately, as reflected in the AHCPR Guideline and favorable media publicity. But, whatever the future may bring, we cannot afford to be intimidated. We simply must face up to the challenge. We must be ready to change when that is the right thing to do.

Such as that “dark and stormy night” when the admiral on the bridge spotted what looked like the light of another ship heading straight for him. He told his officer to communicate with the other ship: “Change your course 12 degrees north.”

A response flashed back: “No, you change your course 12 degrees north.” The furious admiral responded: “Change your course north. I’m on a battleship!”

To which the reply came: “Change your course north. I’m in a lighthouse!”

Change is the only real constant in any living process. To be alive is to change. At the same time, it is good to realize that often we can have a hand in shaping change.

Question: How do you make a sculpture of an elephant?

Answer: You take a big block of marble and chip away anything that doesn’t look like an elephant.

The trick, I believe, is to view each change as an opportunity to grow and to chip away at whatever interferes with sculpting for ourselves higher levels of excellence. We must make technology our servant. We must shape change to advance our mission. We must always climb to higher ground. One of my favorite mottoes seems appropriate for the next century of chiropractic: “Excellence is never achieved, and that’s what excellence is all about.”

When you think about it, these modest lessons of mine have one thing in common. They all highlight the need for a tenacious spirit, the same fighting spirit that characterized those early California chiropractors who battled persecution. And that fighting spirit goes hand in hand with the capacity to make sacrifices, including the sacrifice of personal pride and ambition, for the sake of a higher mission.   

So, perhaps my challenge to each of you for chiropractic’s next 100 years is simply this: Continue to push ahead both courageously and unselfishly. Be ready to change and seize every opportunity to move ever onward ever upward. Stay as strong in the second century as you have in the first. Keep the faith of the chiropractic principle.

I don’t consider that challenge unreasonable where Californians are concerned. After all, as history proves, California chiropractors are strong enough to leave their children at the jail house door.





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