Esme Tombleson Award Past Recipients

Ingrid Robertson (2022 Recipient)

Cantabrian Ingrid Robertson was diagnosed with MS in 1999, but has never let that hold her back in achieving her dreams, inspiring and supporting others by being an advocate not only in her local community, but also nationally. Since 2018 she has organised four Oceans of Hope Challenge NZ events, taking over 120 people with MS on sailing adventures. She is inspired to help others with MS to find their magnificence. Ingrid organises the sails to provide opportunities for others with MS to meet people also diagnosed, learn from each other, feel empowered, and push the limits of what they think they can achieve. Ingrid is an inspiration to everyone she meets, encouraging people to “Believe in yourself.”

When asking Ingrid what she thought about being nominated, and receiving the award, she said:

“In December last year I was surprised to receive a phone call from Neil. It was just after our Oceans of Hope Challenge from Auckland to Bay of Islands, and although it was a great trip, they encountered 2 storms in one day and then on the Friday night when they were back a few caught Covid from a restaurant they had been to. My first thought was someone had phoned MSNZ with concerns so when he said that I had been nominated for the Esme Tombleson Award, I was a bit discombobulated and never expecting something like this I don’t think I actually took it in.

I feel very honoured to receive the Esme Tombleson Award. I love organising Oceans of Hope Challenges as I know first hand and see over and over how they help people get their self-confidence and ‘magnificence’ back. To have so many people coming back each year always made me feel we were doing something right down under!”

MSNZ has been immensely proud to work with Ingrid. The opportunities and encouragement she brings to the lives of other diagnosed is truly inspirational.

Ingrid receives the award, presented by MSNZ President, Neil Woodhams.


Joan Perry

Mother of a person with MS, wife and passionate advocate, Joan Perry was tired of sitting by and watching the continued delays being faced by New Zealanders in accessing Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Treatment (aHSCT). Inspired by her strong and incredible daughter Anne, Joan wanted other New Zealanders to have the same opportunities she and her family had been afforded by the treatment, to have her daughter back.

After talking with MSNZ about the continued frustrations, Joan was motivated to start a petition to call on the Government to progress the availability of the treatment. Over the next 14 months Joan took every opportunity to gather signatures from within her community and worked closely with MSNZ to promote the petition. By the end of June 2022, 10,903 had signed the petition. The petition was received and read out in Parliament on 26th July 2022. Following this, Joan worked with MSNZ to make a written submission to the Petitions Commission and an oral presentation to the Health Select Committee.

Joan’s heartfelt passion, dedication and unwavering commitment to achieving her mission is admirable and MSNZ were proud to present her with the Esme Tombleson Award.

Joan Perry with the Esme Tombleson award certificate.

Christine O’Sullivan (2016 Recipient)

Christine O’Sullivan was diagnosed with Secondary Progressive MS in 2005 and always had a positive view about her diagnosis choosing to focus on helping others. Christine has lobbied and worked in the community, for PwMS, and disabilities, for many years. Leading by example she is an inspiring role model in the community. Christine sat on the MS Wellington Committee in 2011, and on the Wellington City Council Accessibility Advisory group since February 2014.

In the early days, Christine decided to accept that she couldn’t control MS, but could take charge of the ongoing changes and focus on what she could do.
Resulting from her proactive work, Christine was invited to speak at the GPCME Conferences in Rotorua and Christchurch in 2015. Christine presented on ‘Taking Charge of Change – my adventures with MS’ and was part of a panel speaking on ‘Living with Disability’. The other panel members all had congenital disabilities which gave Christine a different perspective to present as being comparatively ‘new’ to being disabled.

Christine’s most recent initiative has been developing “Sing for MS”, held on World MS Day in May in Wellington for three years running. This wonderful event brings people together and provides a fun, supportive and encouraging environment. The events have been thoroughly enjoyed by all. There is a lot of work work that goes into organising the event; from securing the singers/facilitators through to liaising with the Council to promote the event and secure parking permits.

The MS Wellington Committee and Community Support Staff wholeheartedly supported Christine’s nomination for the Esme Tombleson Award and thank her for all her contributions to the MS Community.



Sarah O’Neil (2015 Recipient)

Diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS, Sarah is a mother, wife and author who has dedicated her life to showing people that there is life beyond MS. The panel members were extremely impressed by Sarah’s sense of community action and her strong focus on promoting a healthy lifestyle to the youth of today.

Since her diagnosis, Sarah and her family have moved from Auckland City to the country, to live a happier, healthier lifestyle. Due to fatigue and other problematic MS symptoms, returning to the workplace did not seem a viable option. Prompted by her lifestyle change, Sarah progressed into writing about her gardening and has now written two books: one documenting the journey from city slicker to country bumpkin, and the other to encourage families to get out into the garden and grow fresh food together. Sarah also writes for the New Zealand Herald in their Bite and Plus supplement, has a column on the Go Gardening website, and contributes to their paper magazine. In articles in the Natural Parent magazine and on, Sarah encourages families to grow their own food.

Sarah doesn’t just sit behind her words, however; she has her own YouTube channel, is a Yates Brand Ambassador, speaks to groups about the benefits of growing food, has been on TV and helps out at her local school garden, mentoring and teaching others who want to garden.

To nominate someone you know who is deserving of recognition like Sarah email MSNZ for an application form.