After 20 years with Parkinson’s WA – from Office Manager to CEO – Brenda Matthews is off to tackle even bigger mountains.
Pictured: Brenda smiles brightly at Perry Lakes Reserve
On top of her work as CEO – during which time her many achievements included securing the future of the invaluable and popular Parkinson’s Nurse Specialist service, organising community events, and loudly promoting exercise as Parkinson’s therapy – Brenda has been a frequent visitor to Nepal.
Trekking in the Himalayas has been one of her favourite activities, and retirement will see her back there next month with her sights set on a brand-new goal. She has also raised countless funds for Parkinson's WA while she was busy conquering mountains - a cause very close to her heart personally as well as professionally.
“I have trekked in Nepal 15 times,” Brenda said.
“I’ve got up to 6,200m and will be back on 5 April to try for a 6,500m peak. I’ll start my retirement with intense training at Jacob’s Ladder in King’s Park.”
Pictured: Brenda trekking through Nepal (supplied)
Brenda joined Parkinson’s WA in 2003 as the Office Manager, looking after a small but dedicated team of volunteers, staff members and Parkinson’s Nurse Specialists Janet and Nerolie. She became CEO in 2007.
A lot about her career had delighted her and made her proud, she said.
“Every day of those past 20 years has been an enjoyable challenge.”
“Ensuring the policies, procedures and finances are all in place to support the Parkinson’s Nurse Specialist service in the community has been a major one.”
“My reward has been the feedback from the Parkinson’s community, knowing how beneficial the service is to them to help maintain their independence and understand the condition.”
The Parkinson’s Nurse Specialist service has been a significant and crucial addition to the service arm of Parkinson’s WA. But not long after it began in 1998, it faced financial crisis and funding disarray.
“Since that time, we have been successful in securing funding from the Department of Health,” Brenda said.
“This is an excellent achievement that I hope will be continued for many more years.”
“I engaged with previous Health Ministers, the Hon. Dr Kim Hames and the Hon. Roger Cook to spruik our important community-based service – and was successful.”
Expanding the service to regional WA in the past few years has been another major achievement, meaning appropriate nursing care is now available to people living with Parkinson’s outside the metro area.
“With an office in Bunbury servicing Collie, Manjimup, Narrogin and Wagin, this South West service also now provides support for Esperance – a resounding outcome of realising a vision to expand beyond the Perth area,” Brenda said.
She felt empowered by the idea of sharing information with the community and health professionals, so people living with Parkinson’s, and their carers/partners and family networks had access to the best care and knowledge about the condition.
Brenda was full of admiration for the work of Clinical Nurse Manager Janet McLeod, with whom she has worked closely with over the years.
She had been able to meet challenges, further her knowledge and enhance support for the Parkinson’s Nurse Specialist service because of Janet’s help, and many times the two had collaborated on what Brenda said had initially seemed “impossible feats”.
Pictured: Brenda stands alongside volunteer Pat and Clinical Nurse Manager Janet
“Parkinson’s WA has always led the way nationally in preparing and reviewing the national education resources for patients, carers/partners and allied health professionals in the best management of Parkinson’s,” Brenda said.
“I have worked very closely with Janet to coordinate and maintain this.”
“I initiated dialogue with the Australian College of Nursing to introduce the postgraduate unit of study in Parkinson’s care for nursing staff, which is currently being adapted to include allied health professionals.”
“In 2012, Janet was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to nursing, in particular to the Parkinson’s community.”
“I was so proud of her for receiving this award and appreciated how it reflected on the positive benefits of the Parkinson’s Nurse Specialist service and the work of Parkinson’s WA in the community.”
Attending the World Parkinson’s Congress gave the Parkinson’s Nurse Specialists a place on the world stage, Brenda said, and it was an important opportunity for them to share their knowledge and learn from others about treating, caring and managing Parkinson’s.
“We have enabled two Parkinson’s Nurse Specialists to attend this conference. The last was 2019, in Tokyo and the next is in Barcelona, this year,” she said.
“This is an excellent opportunity to ensure we are current and at the cutting edge of Parkinson’s knowledge.”
Another of Brenda’s many joys is sharing her love of exercise and speaking about the benefits of using prescriptive exercise to manage Parkinson’s symptoms.
Pictured: Brenda joins the Parkinson's community members for A Walk in the Park 2022
“I am happy to say I spent 10 years organising the community event, A Walk in the Park at Perry Lakes, Floreat, offering both a 2km and 5km walk in beautiful Perry Lakes Reserve,” she said.
“It’s an opportunity to bring the Parkinson’s community together and showcase the importance of exercise.”
Brenda’s friends and colleagues at Parkinson’s WA were quick to sing the praises of their retiring CEO.
Pat Chadbourne, a long-time volunteer who recently retired herself, said she would miss Brenda’s energy, especially her leadership.
“When Brenda became CEO, her very efficient and skilful management helped guide the association to where it is today,” she said.
Board President John McDonald said Brenda had worked tirelessly for Parkinson’s WA and its members.
“I have worked closely with her over the majority of that time and have seen and appreciated her dedication to the cause, not only locally but at a national level with Parkinson’s Australia,” he said.
“The Board and I are sure all the Parkinson’s community join us in expressing a huge thank you to Brenda and wish her well.”
Pictured: Brenda looks thoughtfully out to the lake at Perry Lakes Reserve
Brenda said she was proud to be leaving a lasting legacy and to have had the privilege to work with amazing people who were just as passionate about Parkinson’s care as she was.
But it was time to move on to the next chapter in her life.
“Thank you all for supporting me in my long and rewarding time at Parkinson’s WA,” she said.
“I will never forget the impact it has had on me professionally and personally and I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to represent you all and be part of that journey.”
Photos and words by Jacqui O’Leary