Barry de Geest
Born with no arms and short legs as a result of the drug thalidomide, Barry de Geest’s disability certainly doesn’t cramp his style,
nor has it ever dampened his enthusiasm for living life to the full.
From a young age Barry has rejected pity and broken stereotypes. He went to “a regular school, with regular people, and was raised
as a regular person” – a no-fuss upbringing that helped form the person he is today. Mainstream schooling built that immunity and
opened up opportunities he might never have had.
Today, Barry is the co-owner of a large and successful company, a proud single Dad, a member on and advisor to numerous
boards and councils, a professional business consultant and public speaker and a tireless advocate for the rights of the disabled.
He’s happy to be living independently and he drives a custom-built van with raised pedals and a steering wheel that turns as
he leans (an ingenious mechanism that Barry helped design and develop).
“People often ask me: ‘You’re successful, what drives you?’. My answer is: being Dutch.
My Dutch heritage drives me every day. It has given me perseverance, stubbornness and despite having a severe disability
it makes me want to achieve and succeed every day.”
What is your family’s background?
My father was born in the Netherlands and came here just after the second World War. He went down to live in the Otago region, as part
of the exchange program. He had to live where he was told and he didn’t quite know what he was in for. It was all a bit of a shock to
him as he didn’t speak English at the time, however he loved New Zealand and later even convinced the rest of the family to move
over. At the farm where he initially worked, he met my mother.
Has your Dutch heritage influenced you in your life?
Absolutely. I am outspoken and that doesn’t always fit well in New Zealand. Growing up I found that quite tough, I remember even
being called names such as ‘tulip muncher’. I loved going to Holland for the first time (and still do) as I felt I was finally home. I felt like
I fitted in with the people and I really related to them. It gave me a sense of pride.
What are you most proud of?