Weekly Local Biography

 Lister Hannah

 

The president of the Prem Tinsulanonda Center is Lister Hannah, a much-travelled international academic, who describes himself as, “I’m a fourth generation Australian and a global citizen.” To illustrate this point, he was born in Tanganyika of Australian parents, and for the next 13 years of his life went backwards and forwards spending a total of 10 years in Africa and 3 in Australia. Trips to Australia were by boat and he was exposed to different countries and cultures on these voyages. “I was brought up globally by the standards of those days. Brought up in another culture, so I was already internationally minded.”

Much of his schooling was done in boarding schools; however, he enjoyed this part of his childhood, finishing at the famed Geelong Grammar School in Australia. “I was very fortunate to have the childhood I’ve had. East Africa was exotic and exciting, and I enjoyed boarding school life.” Perhaps one reason for this was the fact that he was an all-rounder, doing well scholastically as well as on the sporting field. In fact he loves all types of football, from soccer, to the much-vaunted “Aussie Rules”, Australia’s own national code. Music and drama were also on his list of school achievements.

After matriculation he won a Teacher Studentship and went to Melbourne University, majoring in History, Political Science and English Literature. This bonded him to the Victorian Education Department for three years, during which time he developed a passion for mountaineering and a passion for a young New Zealand teacher named Davidene he met on the mountains. They married and made up their minds to teach around the world. This was the start of a very strong and internationally experienced relationship, which is still going today.

They moved around to NZ, the UK and then Canada, where he was offered his first post as a school principal in Nova Scotia. They stayed there for four years and began their family, but the next move was imminent. “My African background caught up with me and I was offered a job in Tanzania.” He was ready for the move and he became the headmaster of an international school there, which became the first school in Africa to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma program. This, in turn, led him to become a founding member of the executive of the IB Headmasters’ Standing Conference in 1977, forging a relationship with the IB that is still important today.

He was then asked to apply for a post as one of the principals at the United Nations International School, New York. His time there was “Three years of very stimulating, challenging and wonderful years.” However, there were more countries to experience and when offered the position as headmaster of the Munich International School in Germany, he took it.

The global citizenship to which his father had introduced him was being repeated with his own children. “It was an opportunity to bring my kids up in Europe and to experience the quality of life it offered them, and us. And it had mountains (still a passion with him) and northern Italy that I fell in love with.”

He spent ten and a half years in Europe as headmaster in Munich, while at the same time founding the Bavarian International School and serving on the board of the European Council of International Schools. He established considerable Outreach opportunities stretching out to Africa and Thailand. The international man was just getting into his stride.

But before heading out again into uncharted territories, he returned home, the self-proclaimed “proud Australian” even returning to his own school, Geelong Grammar, as headmaster there. Never having had a soft spot for my own secondary school, I asked Lister Hannah if he found it difficult going back in time and place. He had no hesitation in his reply, “It felt pretty good. It was a school I was very fond of, and remain very fond of. There was also a dimension I felt I could give it.”

History will show that his tenure at Geelong was indeed a successful one and some of the dimensions he gave the school included new methods for teaching life values, now used by several Australian institutions. He also introduced the use of laptop computer technology for children as young as in Grade 5, believing inherently in the fact that education should advance parallel with Information Technology. He introduced the IB diploma and the IB Primary years program and put environmental sustainability into the strategic planning.

Links with Thailand were being strengthened too, with Geelong Grammar becoming involved in a joint venture to develop an international school at Doi Tung. He was instrumental in arranging for student volunteers from both Australia and Germany to assist in some of Senator Mechai Viravaidya’s Population and Community Development Association (PDA) projects in this country.

It should then come as no surprise that Lister Hannah was approached in 1999 to become the president of an educational concept, which is now the Prem Tinsulanonda Centre. The time was right for his expansion into Asia and he arrived in northern Thailand in January 2000. His brief was to set up a world class educational institution, something that was more than just an international school. He is now doing just that, even taking up the headship of the international school for the next eighteen months, in addition to his work as president of the Prem Centre.

I asked Lister if he had some ‘master plan’ that he was following, but he denied this. “I have never deliberately planned the future. Opportunities have presented themselves to me continually. My experience has always prepared me for the next step.”

He remains passionate about his work and has enjoyed what he (modestly) describes as a “challenging career.” I think most of us would rather call it an immensely successful career, and one which has not yet reached its zenith. When they establish the first intergalactic school of the universe, expect to see the name Lister Hannah as its Founding President!