Warrnambool’s Andrew Suggett named Sir Zelman Cowen Award recipient
Nov. 29, 2018
Warrnambool Parkinson’s Peer Support Group Coordinator and community leader Andrew Suggett OAM has been named the 2018 recipient of the Sir Zelman Cowen Award, in recognition of his invaluable voluntary contribution to the Parkinson’s community.
With his wife Betty by his side and his children and grandchildren close by, Andrew was presented with the award at the Parkinson’s Victoria AGM in Melbourne on Monday.
The Sir Zelman Cowen Award is Parkinson’s Victoria’s highest honour and was first presented in 2006 to acknowledge an individual for their outstanding service to people living with Parkinson’s.
“I am thrilled – it’s absolutely wonderful. I feel very honoured and very proud,” Andrew said on receiving the award, while also acknowledging the Warrnambool Peer Support Group members for their “encouragement, friendship and support”.
Andrew is one of those rare people who help bind their community together. A strong family man, his care for others and his hometown is evident. He’s an active member of the local golf and Rotary clubs and has been a member of the local Chamber of Commerce and several advisory bodies.
So it came as no surprise to Betty when Andrew threw himself into supporting a new community he unwittingly found himself a member of – the local Parkinson’s community.
Andrew said he found his first support group meeting after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000 a bit confronting. He missed one meeting, but decided to give it another go. It was easier, but still difficult.
What ensued was a change of direction for the peer support group to better meet the needs of group, particularly around social connection – a safe place where people could come along and enjoy each other’s company.
It’s obviously a formula that works as the Warrnambool Group recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
“I do what I can, while I can,” Andrew explains. And he does this with a supportive partner by his side, his wife Betty. She is proud of her husband, in particular the mark he has made representing people with Parkinson’s from regional areas, where people can feel particularly isolated.
“One of the reasons he joined the Parkinson’s Victoria Board was to put the regions into view,” she said.
Andrew was Board member from 2011-1016, including time as Vice-Chair. But what he is most proud of is the Warrnambool Peer Support Group, for what is offers people living with a condition where “a lot of people feel very much alone.”
“It is really satisfying helping someone. But I also do it for my own satisfaction - the support and friendships it has provided me is absolutely terrific.”
Andrew is also particularly proud of the ongoing support the group provides for partners and carers who remain welcome once their loved one has passed on, at a time when social connection can become even more important.
Just 5 weeks before making the three hour train ride from Warrnambool to Melbourne for the Parkinson’s Victoria AGM, Andrew was flown to Geelong Hospital suffering a heart attack. With stents inserted, he was back on the golf course two weeks later.
It is this resilience that defines Andrew. When diagnosed with Parkinson’s, his doctor told him he would not be able to walk properly within 5 years – 17 years later he is still walking strong and goes to the gym 3 times a week, which “without a doubt helps.”
For him, exercise, medication, chiropractic care and positive thinking are key. He loves gardening and painting. He will have a local exhibition of his work in January. And his passion for golf continues. Yet, all the while he is helping others – whether it be one-on-one or within a wider community context.
That has included a key role in creation of a local Parkinson’s Men’s Shed and working with local media, businesses and politicians to raise awareness of Parkinson’s and fundraising efforts, including the Warrnambool A Walk in the Park he has led for four years.
“There is no doubt that people living with Parkinson’s in Warrnambool and the South-West district of Victoria are better off because of Andrew and the Warrnambool Peer Support Group,” Parkinson’s Victoria CEO Emma Collin said.
Andrew (centre) is pictured after receiving his award, with Parkinson's Victoria Chair, Assoc. Prof. David Finkelstein and Board member, Sue Harper.