It was the day of Trace Richey’s bone marrow transplant and he wanted to celebrate. “We need wine,” he told his partner, Neil Pennock.
Pennock checked with the doctors and nurses. They didn’t exactly condone the booze but said it couldn’t be worse than the chemotherapy drugs already in Richey's system to treat his cancer, the rare myelodysplastic syndrome.
Pennock bought a bottle of biodynamic pinot gris (“I got the healthiest one I could find,” he says) and they drank a toast to Richey’s recovery. “That’s what Trace was like,” says Pennock. “He was very cheeky. He was fun. He’d always try and make people laugh.”
About 40 days later, Richey died of graft-versus-host disease. The new tissue rejected his body and attacked.
Three years on, Pennock is determined some good should come of his partner’s death. He is donating $160,000 to establish the Trace Richey Nursing Scholarship at the University of Sydney's Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery. The scholarship will support one full‑time or two part-time students each year to complete a Master of Cancer and Haematology degree.
“The nurses took a shine to Trace and I have so much love and gratitude for them,” says Pennock. “They deal with so much trauma and they were all smiles. If that doesn’t deserve respect, I don’t know what does.”
The nurses took a shine to Trace and I have so much love and gratitude for them.
The scholarship is the first gift from the TLR Foundation, which Pennock set up in his partner’s name (the initials stand for Trace Lee Richey). He hopes to support the care of transplant patients and encourage more people to donate bone marrow.
For the past few years, Pennock, his friends and family have been shaving their heads, jumping out of planes and running the City2Surf to raise money for their cause. The foundation has also supported the construction of a new bone marrow transplant ward at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.
It’s a fitting tribute to Richey, who spent his career in fundraising, working with organisations including the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Mission Australia.
Even during Richey’s final stay in hospital, when he heard the nurses were shaving their heads to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation, he pitched in to help. He and Pennock shaved each other’s heads for the cause (by that stage Richey’s hair was falling out). “He still looked gorgeous,” Pennock says. “It made his eyes pop.”
Pennock works in finance and he smiles at the thought of Richey’s response to his fundraising efforts. “He’d be rolling his eyes and saying, ‘That was my thing’. But I think he’d be proud, too.”