HMRI Life Governor and benefactor Jennie Thomas AM has invested over $1 million to personally nourish the careers of around 150 outstanding young researchers and students at HMRI and the University of Newcastle.
Each recipient becomes part of the “JT family” and is welcomed not just with scholarships, grants and mentoring but open arms – every meeting starts with a special motherly hug as Jennie imbues warmth and confidence.
She gets pleasure and pride from allowing young people to shape who they are, what they do and the legacy they leave.
“My philosophy is to give, while I can, with a warm hand and a warm heart and added hugs of encouragement, love and mentoring,” Jennie says.
“I embrace all of my JT scholars as part of my extended family and I enjoy seeing the seeds of each gift come to fruition, bloom and go on to provide further fruits for the future.
“It has been, and continues to be, a joyous journey.”
Her partner David agrees: “We are so lucky to meet these young researchers.
“You get to be part of the moment where they realise someone really believes in their work.”
Jennie’s mother taught her what it meant to “give” when gripped with cancer.
After many surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, her mother agreed to a final procedure in the name of medical research.
“In one of those moments that never leave you, my mother said ‘I don’t have any money Jennie. I only have me.
“This is my bit of research, and I know that what they learn from me today, will help my grandkids in future.’ ”
Although having no children of our own, Jennie sees her support as a way of celebrating the 40 years shared with her late husband, Philip Emlyn Thomas, an industrial chemist who managed a large scientific instrument company in Melbourne.
Em, as he was known, endured heart issues and a stroke, so the postgraduate medical research scholarship program was created to enable PhD students to push the boundaries of cardiac research.
It has since expanded to cover a broad range of illnesses.
BraveHeart, a pilot study at John Hunter Hospital for patient experiencing depression or anxiety at the end of cardiac rehabilitation, was one of Jennie’s first significant funding projects.
Jennie can still name every one of her early-career researchers, many of whom have progressed to be well-known and respected in their respective fields, including Dr Nikki Verrills, Associate Professor Nikola Bowden, Dr Matt Dun, Dr Andrew Gardner, and Associate Professor Frances Kay Lambkin.