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Award salute to carer’s exceptional dedication

LUCY Mill was Peter Reichenbach's earth-bound guardian angel.

Peter had multiple sclerosis (MS) — a so-far incurable disease of the central nervous system — for 45 years. He died on August 19 this year. For the last 20 years of his life, Lucy was his main carer, primarily through CCS Disability Action Tairawhiti.

On October 30, Multiple Sclerosis New Zealand announced that Lucy was to receive the 2019 Esme Tombleson Award for Caregiver of the Year, a national award named in honour of the former Gisborne MP, co-founder of the national MS organisation and founding president of the Gisborne East Coast MS Society.

However, after suffering a stroke, Lucy died at Auckland Hospital on November 17, aged 59, just over two weeks before the award was to be presented to her.

The award was presented at the Gisborne East Coast MS Society's Christmas lunch this month to Lucy's long-time partner Jay Ngarimu.

Society field officer Christine Beard said Lucy was a 'lovely, caring person, who went the extra mile for Peter'.

'Without Lucy, Peter would not have got out of the house,' she said.

'She joined the MS Society and would bring Peter along to functions like monthly morning tea gatherings, the Christmas lunch and the garden party.

'When Lucy went away, Peter would go downhill, and then would pick up as soon as he knew she was coming back.'

A statement from Multiple Sclerosis New Zealand said Lucy was more than just a carer; for Peter Reichenbach, she was also a dear friend.

Lucy visited Peter three times a day, every day, and was a positive and constant presence in his life. She fed, showered and clothed him.

'Lucy helped break down social barriers so that he remained connected to his church and MS friends,' the statement said.

'As Peter's MS evolved over the 20 years, she embraced the challenges and adapted her care accordingly. In particular, she supported Peter's nutritional needs and dietary requirements by growing fruit and vegetables on his patio.'

Gisborne East Coast MS Society secretary Judy Livingston said the society was 'very fortunate' to have Lucy as a carer for Peter.

'She made a measurable impact on his life over 20 years of care for him.'

Lucy Mill was born at Te Puia Hospital but raised in Gisborne, where she met her partner Jay Ngarimu. They had two children — Coralie, who lives in Perth, and Jaylene, who lives in Gisborne — and five grandchildren.

Lucy's vocation for caring began with her own family. She looked after her father, Tuahine, and an aunt when they were ill, and later decided to train to be a carer with help agencies.

She started her career with CCS in the mid-1990s, and looked after many people in the Gisborne district.

An interview with Peter Reichenbach for MS Awareness Week in 1997, over 20 years after he first noticed symptoms that led to a diagnosis of MS, touched on the subject of carers.

'My attitudes to accepting help have had to change,' he said at the time.

'You have to accept help and you have to be grateful for it. If you make it difficult for your helpers, if you are angry and resentful, they won't come back. You have to have that help. There are no other options. The world goes on just the same.'

He was 53 at the time. He was 75 when he died. He had two sons, Daniel and Matthew, and four grandchildren.

Lucy Mill's family said Lucy would have been humbled to receive the award from MS New Zealand.

'It certainly has made her whanau proud.'

CAREGIVER AND FRIEND: Lucy Mill and Peter Reichenbach at the Gisborne East Coast MS Society midwinter Christmas party in 2016. Lucy's long-time partner Jay Ngarimu accepted the Esme Tombleson Award for Caregiver of the Year on her behalf. Picture supplied
TOKEN OF APPRECIATION: Gisborne East Coast MS Society president Grant Harrison (right) presents the certificate for the Esme Tombleson Award for Caregiver of the Year to Jay Ngarimu, who, with his cousin Leonie Walker (left), accepted it on behalf of his late partner, Lucy Mill. Picture by Liam Clayton