TRURO, N.S – Truro businessman Garry Pye and his wife Mary-Lou have pledged a $400,000 donation in support of Parkinson’s disease research taking place at Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine.
Pye, 74, learned he had Parkinson’s disease a little over five years ago. Although he has had “the good fortune of staying pretty steady over the years,” the diagnosis left him wanting to help in the fight against it.
“Well that sort of diagnosis is pretty frightening when you first hear of it,” he said, by telephone from Florida.
“We’ve been lucky in business and we can afford to make donations. And it’s been made clear to me by Dalhousie that in order to access additional funds they have to have private support locally.”
Pye owns Chevrolet and Toyota dealerships in Truro, along with real estate and other business holdings. He was also a partner in the ownership team of world champion racehorse Somebeachsomewhere.
“I am more fortunate than most as my progression has been slow and with both exercise and proper medication, my life feels nearly normal,” Pye said in a news release from Dalhousie.
“I became aware of the status of disease research upon my diagnosis and the prospects of symptom control and reduction, as well as the possibility of a cure,” he continued.
After meeting Dr. Christopher McMaster and learning of the “world-class” research being funded by the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, Pye said he was “honoured” to be asked to support the work for both personal and societal reasons.”
The Pye’s donation to the research foundation began in 2015 with a gift of $100,000, followed a further $25,000 contribution in 2016. The couple recently pledged another $275,000 over the next five years to McMaster’s team.
The announcement of the financial donation was made in recognition of Parkinson’s Awareness month this month.
Pye added that the importance of his contribution was made even clearer when he was informed that private donations can sometimes generate matching funding through government or foundation programs.
“It’s kind of reassuring to know that my donation is going to leverage a bunch more for them,” he said.
Parkinson's disease is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system,” Dalhousie said in its release.
Current Parkinson's disease therapies are focused on providing relief of symptoms and not on preventing the disease from progressing, the release said.
“While alieving the challenging symptoms of Parkinson’s is important, preventing its progression would improve the quality of life and longevity of the 10 million people living with the disease worldwide.”
And that is the premise upon which McMaster and his team are working on to develop a novel drug target that has the potential to prevent Parkinson’s disease progression.
“Our research in genetics and genomics here at Dalhousie is world-leading,” McMaster said. “By leveraging our strengths in this area and assembling interdisciplinary research teams to maximize our outcomes, we expect our new treatment for Parkinson’s patients to prevent the progression of this destructive disease.”
The advanced level of specialization and international collaboration involved in the project requires substantial capital, which is why such private donations are so important, he said.
“Funds from donors like Garry and Mary-Lou Pye have assisted in the recruitment of talent while accelerating drug development and essential testing,” McMaster said. “The end result, better outcomes for people living with Parkinson’s disease.”
The next four years are critical, he said, as the team strives to accelerate development of the drug.
In addition to Pye’s other business interests, he and his business partners are also involved in custom mouldings and tire distribution.
Another business, the Blue Water Group, has grown to span the country from St. John's to Vancouver and includes oil distribution, offshore drilling support, and warehousing and logistics services.
In all, the family companies now employ 455 people.