From ABC children’s program producer to major research donor
Jennie Mackenzie's generous donation will offer critical support to early career researchers and encourage collaboration across disciplines at the Charles Perkins Centre.
Jennie Mackenzie, who dedicated the early part of her life to the education, entertainment and wellbeing of children before becoming a supporter and mentor to researchers, has donated $20 million to the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney.
The bequest will support the research strategy of the Charles Perkins Centre, especially early career researchers and the establishment of shared platforms that will support and encourage collaboration across disciplines. It follows Ms Mackenzie’s previous donation of almost $900,000 to the Charles Perkins Centre in support of early career researchers.
“Jennie was determined to leverage her legacy for the good of the community and she has certainly done that with this impactful gift. Her bequest will realise her vision of providing critical support to the multidisciplinary work of the Charles Perkins Centre and its focus on obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular health,” said Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Mark Scott.
Jennie Mackenzie was the director of a preschool before she became an early childhood adviser for ABC radio, television and associated projects for children under eight. She produced radio and TV programs and books for the ABC, and programs for TAFE Satellite Education, winning a Television Society of Australia award for an episode of Play School.
Ms Mackenzie was a foundation member of Contact, a committee set up by the New South Wales government to provide support for isolated children and their caregivers. She was also the first president of the 222 Committee, formed by a group of friends to support children attending a kindergarten union centre in the inner city of Sydney.
“Through her own cancer treatment, Jennie became interested in health and medical research. She also had a formative career experience participating in a multidisciplinary program in early childhood education. So when she was introduced to the Charles Perkins Centre, she was excited by both our vision for change and multidisciplinary approach,” said Professor Stephen Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre.
“In her typically dynamic and generous way, Jennie went on to be involved as a volunteer, mentor, donor, and ultimately, dear friend. She played a dedicated role as patron to our vibrant early- and mid-career researcher community at CPC.”
Ensuring the career support of early-to mid-career researchers was a particular interest of Jennie’s. Among others, she supported two postdoctoral researchers, Associate Professor Melkam Kebede and Dr Rosilene Ribeiro.
Associate Professor Kebede is researching pancreatic islet cells and the relationship between obesity and type 2 diabetes. She now runs her own CPC lab, the Kebede Islet Biology and Metabolism Lab, with collaborations across the CPC.
“I don’t think I would be where I am today if I wasn’t part of the CPC. Jennie’s support helped make my dream of coming back to Australia after two overseas postdoctoral fellowships in the US and Canada a reality, and I am forever grateful to her for that,” Associate Professor Kebede said.
“I don’t think I would be where I am today if I wasn’t part of the CPC. Jennie’s support helped make my dream of coming back to Australia after two overseas postdoctoral fellowships in the US and Canada a reality, and I am forever grateful to her for that."
“For me, Jennie was more like an advocate than anything else. She cared so much about what I do and my professional and personal growth. I miss her lovely kindness, positivity, and huge sense of fun.”
Dr Kebede was recruited to the CPC as a postdoctoral fellow with an initial gift from Jennie Mackenzie and co-investment from the Faculty of Science and School of Life and Environmental Sciences. She went on to obtain a continuing position in the School of Medical Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine and Health, illustrating the power of the multi-disciplinary, multi-faculty model of the CPC to attract and retain high-performing early-career researchers.
Dr Rosilene Ribeiro’s research looks at ways of using nutrition to improve health and wellbeing for older individuals. She plays a leading role in the translation of research through the CPC Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital Clinic, running clinical trials investigating the impacts of targeted dietary interventions on cardio-metabolic health.
“Jennie saw our work develop over a significant period of time from our establishment, almost a decade ago, and was very aware and supportive of the impact of bringing together researchers from seemingly unrelated disciplines to address the scourge and cost of chronic disease related to these conditions,” Dr Ribeiro said.
Characteristically Jennie arranged that, after her death, a party be held attended by friends, family and CPC staff, complete with music from her much-loved Conservatorium jazz band.
“Jennie had a passion for many things – teaching, medical research and of course, jazz. It feels incredibly fitting to have her passions unite in a celebration of her life,” said Professor Simpson.
Jennie died in October 2021. Having been delayed by COVID, the ‘Jazz for Jennie’ celebration and commemoration took place on 15 November this year.
A key seminar room in the Charles Perkins Centre has now been renamed ‘The Mackenzie Room’ in her honour.