Honouring a legacy
Australian Catholic University, in association with the Low Choy family, have established a memorial award to honour respected Professor of Physiotherapy Nancy Low Choy, who taught and mentored physiotherapy students at ACU until her death in April 2022.
Nancy Low Choy’s legacy in the Australian physiotherapy community rested on one important phone call.
Originally from a cattle property in northern New South Wales, Nancy was drawn to physiotherapy when one of her uncle’s became ill. The sole physiotherapy degree offered in Australia, at that time, was based in Brisbane, however, Queenslanders were given preference and she was told not to expect an offer.
After graduating from high school, Nancy accepted an offer to study geography and arts at the University of Sydney. One week before moving, Nancy received a phone call – the phone call – advising her of one vacancy in the physiotherapy degree at the University of Queensland. She pivoted and quickly made plans for Brisbane.
It was there, at the university she never expected to attend, that she met her husband of nearly 50 years, Emeritus Professor Darryl Low Choy, who was studying geology and geography.
The pair married in their mid-20s, both pursuing their careers. Then, while enrolled in a PhD in physiotherapy and holding a lectureship at the University of Queensland, Nancy and Darryl welcomed their first child.
“Nancy made the decision to become a full-time mum, so she resigned, and converted her PhD to a master’s. But that’s what she wanted in life, to be a full-time mother,” Darryl said.
As the children progressed through primary and secondary schooling, Nancy increasingly went back into the part-time workforce teaching at the University of Queensland. She eventually returned to her studies and full-time work when her daughters began university themselves. Her experiences as a mother and physiotherapist inspired her to nurture and mentor dozens of young married women with children who experienced barriers in wanting to pursue a career in physiotherapy.
“She was always concerned for young married physios who were starting a family while at the same time having aspirations to start a postgraduate course because she knew the challenges herself,” Darryl said. “She always encouraged them to keep going with their studies.”
In June 2012, Professor Nancy Low Choy was appointed Professor of Physiotherapy (Aged Care and Neurological Rehabilitation) at ACU in a conjoint appointment with The Prince Charles Hospital. However in 2016, she and her family received devastating news – Nancy had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Emeritus Professor Darryl Low Choy with Associate Professor Jane Butler and Professor Suzanne Kuys.
Nancy remained at ACU until her retirement from higher education in 2018. She was subsequently awarded Honorary Professorial positions and continued supervising students at ACU “well into her illness”.
During her five years with ACU, she supervised 15 physiotherapy honours students and several master’s and PhD students. This added to the total of more than 100 research students across the life of her career.
She sadly died in April 2022, surrounded by her loving family.
On March 30 2023, Darryl joined ACU Brisbane Campus Dean and Professor of Physiotherapy Suzanne Kuys – who was also a close friend of Nancy’s for 20 years – to establish the Nancy Low Choy Memorial Award for Excellence in Physiotherapy Honours. The award will give Bachelor of Physiotherapy Honours students the opportunity to share their research with the physiotherapy community and connect with world leading researchers.
“I and my daughters believe that Nancy’s career was cut short, so the way to keep her legacy alive and to get Nancy’s work continued is through establishing awards like these,” Emeritus Professor Low Choy said. The award will be awarded annually, in perpetuity, and comprise a $1,000 prize to assist the recipient to present their results at a suitable conference, a certificate and a medal.
“Nancy was always interested in honours students, and encouraged them to do honours in the hope that would lead to higher education. This was most obvious at ACU, who have a strong honours program.”
Professor Kuys said Nancy was a highly respected health practitioner and friend of more than 20 years.
“Nancy was one of the most influential and supportive leaders in physiotherapy in Australia, and the fact that many of our staff are her former students is testament to her impact in the profession,” Professor Kuys said.
“I was privileged to know and work with Nancy for the past 20 plus years and she was an amazing and giving mentor.
“In honour of Nancy’s contribution to physiotherapy, ACU is proud to establish the Nancy Low Choy Memorial Award for Excellence in Physiotherapy Honours in support of our honours students.
“The award acknowledges Nancy’s commitment to supporting students through Honours and Post Graduate studies, and her belief in the impact that these achievements have on physiotherapists.”
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