The major donation that began with dinner under the stars

9 October 2017
From a chance meeting with a University great to a $925,000 gift

Twenty years ago, Dr Virginia Hood had dinner in the desert with Dr Charles Perkins AO. Now her donation to the University of Sydney is supporting the research centre named in his honour.

On a clear night in 1997, Dr Virginia Hood (MBBS ’70) and her partner, Dr H. Lawrence McCrorey, were dining under the stars near Uluru. The event was part of an international conference on renal disease in indigenous populations ­– a long-time interest of Dr Hood’s.

Sitting next to them that night was Dr Charles Perkins AO, the first Aboriginal man to graduate from a university in Australia. “We started chatting and he and Larry just hit it off,” recalls Dr Hood.

The two men were born on opposite sides of the world – Dr McCrorey in Philadelphia and Dr Perkins in Alice Springs. But as they talked and ate, it became clear they had much in common. “They shared their experiences of being marginalised as people of colour within the dominant society,” says Dr Hood.

Dr McCrorey died in 2009 and in his honour Dr Hood has donated $925,000 to the University of Sydney USA Foundation, to be directed to the Charles Perkins Centre. The multidisciplinary research centre, named for the Sydney alumnus they met that night in the desert, aims to combat diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and their related conditions.

For Dr Hood, the centre’s research resonates with her own work in health-promotion research and as a kidney specialist. After graduating from Sydney and training in nephrology at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Dr Hood left Australia to travel the world, accepting a position at the University of Vermont in the US, where she met Dr McCrorey.

The education I had in Australia positioned me to have a very gratifying career in medicine and make connections with remarkable people.
Dr Virginia Hood

She has collaborated with the Mohawk people in Akwesasne, a region straddling Canada and the US near her home, working to reduce obesity, especially among children. She worked in concert with the community to improve diets and encourage exercise.

The Charles Perkins Centre’s focus on the lifestyle factors that affect disease, and its emphasis on collaboration across disciplines, speak to Dr Hood’s experience and interests. In 2015, she invited the centre’s Academic Director, Professor Stephen Simpson, to speak at a New York meeting of the Sydney University Graduates Union of North America, and then to visit her colleagues at the University of Vermont. “People were fascinated by his work,” she says. “It consolidated my thinking that I wanted to support the centre and the work that he was doing.”

The donation is also an expression of gratitude to the university that gave her an education, and to her parents, who made it possible. “I think of it as a privilege to be able to do it,” she says of the gift. “I started thinking about how lucky I had been to be able to go to university. The education I had in Australia positioned me to have a very gratifying career in medicine and make connections with remarkable people, such as Professor Simpson.

“It will be good to watch all these innovative projects at Sydney University unfolding and being productive over the coming years.”