Australia

Senator offers touching tribute to wife and renowned climate scientist, Penny Whetton

Senator Janet Rice and her wife Penny Whetton. Source: Supplied

Senator Janet Rice and her wife Penny Whetton became much-loved members of Australia's LGBTIQ+ community after they spoke candidly about the barriers they faced after Dr Whetton's gender transition.

Greens Senator Janet Rice has posted a heartbreaking tribute to her wife, climate scientist Penny Whetton, who died "in her favourite spot" last week at the age of 61. 

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Senator Rice said Dr Whetton had travelled to their holiday house in Sisters Beach, Tasmania, alone and was found on Thursday morning "still sitting on the couch, computer on her lap".

"A lovely place to pass away, but just 20 years too early," the tribute read. "It’s so unbelievable, so unexpected and so so sad," she said.

Dr Whetton had helped lead the CSRIO's climate change research and was one of the lead authors on the fourth assessment report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Action, which was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

Renowned Australian climate scientist Dr Whetton has died age 61.
Renowned Australian climate scientist Dr Whetton has died age 61.
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"Penny was a scientist and artist, intelligent, creative and able to turn her hand and her intellect to almost anything, from the climate science that was her profession, to landscape painting and furniture making," Senator Rice said.

"She was happiest with camera in hand in a misty day in a tall wet forest ... or striding out across mountain ranges, or in the early morning on the beach at Sisters, photographing the morning light and chatting to the Pacific Gulls and Sooty Oyster Catchers."

The couple met at university 38 years ago, getting married shortly after. 

After Dr Whetton made the decision to undergo a gender transition, the pair became much-loved figures of the LGBTIQ+ community, often speaking candidly about the barriers they faced.

"We journeyed with her in her gender affirmation, and loved her all the more. She was a role model and an inspiration for so many trans and gender diverse people," the post continued, adding that Dr Whetton had been a "fabulous parent" to the couple's two sons, John and Leon.

"It’s still not real. I can’t imagine life without her. I know so many of her friends and colleagues feel the same. We’ll get through I suppose, but we will miss her so so much."

Penny Whetton
Dr Whetton had helped lead the CSRIO's climate change research and was one of the lead authors on the fourth assessment report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Action, which was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
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Tributes flowed on social media, with many acknowledging Dr Whetton's contributions to the LGBTIQ+ rights movement.

"Penny was part of the heartbeat of the LGBTIQ activist community," Change.org executive director Sally Rugg wrote on Twitter.

"She was kind, generous and always had time for people."

Writer and LGBTIQ+ advocate Benjamin Law posted that he was "profoundly sad" to hear of Dr Whetton's death.

"You are a beautiful family and Penny will be so missed," he said. 

Senator Rice said a memorial fund would be established in Dr Whetton's name, with the goal of supporting revegetation and erosion control work at her beloved holiday spot, Sisters Beach. 

A celebration of Dr Whetton's life will be held in the coming weeks.

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