Obituary: Tracy Hickman – an inspiring life of love, laughter and courage

Yesterday we farewelled beloved former Auckland corporate advisory director Tracy Hickman. Having battled cancer for five years, the 57-year-old took her final journey, a glorious but tired warrior departing this world for the great beyond.

Time to read: 6 mins

Tracy died as she lived – on her own terms. As an eligible candidate for the End of Life Choice Act 2019, she opted for a final, beautiful vista: A secluded beach, where she and a small group of her family and friends said their final farewells as she watched waves tumble onto pristine sand.

In her words, it was to be a fast and gentle end to a life in which she’d always had her pedal to the floor.

For UK-born Tracy, life was a triumph. A 16-year member of Baker Tilly Staples Rodway, she was an adored colleague, a philanthropist, a respected business advisor, avid lover of chocolate, and so much more.

At the age of 42, she’d become a marathon runner who would ultimately compete in more than 30 marathons and eight ultra-marathons on all seven continents. Fleet-footed, she ran across the Mongolian mountains, the foothills of Kilimanjaro, the Sahara Desert (a 250km slog known as the toughest footrace on earth), and even the ice-clad plains of Antarctica. She practiced for that in a client’s commercial freezer. 

“They have a massive, warehouse-sized freezer which they cranked down to minus 18.8 degrees and put the fans on to simulate the wind chill,” she told Stuff media in 2017. “I realised straight away I needed new gloves and new tights.”

Tracy’s life took a different trajectory when she developed breast cancer in 2019. While treatment was successful, she felt that the cancer would likely return at some point – not that she was going to let it slow her down. Within a few months of her chemotherapy treatment, she took part in the Chicago Marathon. Her friends, colleagues and clients were inspired, but not surprised. No wall was too high for Tracy to assail with inimitable positivity and she could crumble the toughest façade with her kindness and laughter. She had a wonderful tone of amusement when relating something charming or funny, like she was sharing the best joke in the world.

“She was one of our best and brightest,” says Baker Tilly Staples Rodway national technical director Nicola Hankinson.

Many people benefited from Tracy’s boundless enthusiasm, sound acumen in corporate governance and succession planning, and desire to help others. She was a board member and treasurer of the Asylum Seekers Support Trust, raised funds for Breast Cancer NZ, was the co-founder and a board member of the Grey Lynn Business Association, a member of the New Zealand Branch Council, and a mentor in the University of Auckland’s Women’s Mentoring Programme, just for starters.

In 2022, she decided to combine her love of work and travel, and worked remotely for two months while spending time in Europe and the UK with her partner, Paul Qualtrough, and family. 

Above photos: ©Stuff

But her earlier premonition was right. In February 2023, the cancer returned and had aggressively spread, so she reluctantly retired then set forth on another adventure. Amazingly, that included completion of two marathons, including the Boston Marathon, which also ticked off her goal of running the six marathon majors. “I’m not going to let living with cancer stop me running!” she said beforehand. “When I get back, treatment will begin, along with more travel.” 

By mid-April this year, the cancer had spread to Tracy’s brain and bones and her life expectancy was two to three months. She was without her beloved ability to run, travel and work, and the pain and indignity had become unbearable despite excellent care and pain medication. 

So she chose her final day: May 22.   

All along, she’d updated her various communities with grace and candour, openly talking about her plans and prognosis in person, in the news, on the websites of Baker Tilly and Baker Tilly Staples Rodway, and on her social media channels.   

A wall in the home she shared with Paul is adorned with her race bibs. Now there are also accolades over the walls of her social media profiles – outpourings of love and respect. We won’t name individuals out of respect for their privacy, but their sentiments below are an insight into the high level of regard for Tracy: 

Tracy Riverhead

Messages to Tracy

“I couldn’t believe it when you told me the news only to say that you had a marathon to run…” 

“Thank you for being such an example and inspiration to us all on how to get the best out of life…” 

“I hope the heavens know what they are in for when the time arrives! Unwavering energy and enthusiasm…” 

“Hit those streets in Boston, and give it everything like you always have…” 

In her final weeks, Tracy kept everyone updated. She always did like to run the extra mile.

She expressed gratitude to have been allowed a peaceful death. One of her final wishes was to raise awareness of the End of Life Choice Act 2019, which means those suffering from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months are eligible for assisted dying.

“It has given me so much comfort and peacefulness since I made the decision,” she said. “I would dearly like others to be able to continue to benefit in the same way. Also I am hoping that the upcoming publicity will help others in a similar situation to start conversations with their friends and family, and as a resource on how to deal with the difficult situation in which we find ourselves.”

95 Tracy

Messages to Tracy

“Thinking of others. That's how I will remember you…” 

“I’ve learnt so much from you, but in particular how to be successful in business with integrity and empathy…” 

“Tracy, you have made a positive lasting impact on me and so many others with your selflessness, intellect, and pragmatism always shining through…” 

“Your contribution to the profession has been enormous, and particularly to CPA Australia in New Zealand…” 

Five weeks before her last farewell, she had the following words for those she cared about:   

“I am fortunate to have had a wonderful career, with many lovely colleagues, clients and contacts… Huge thanks to everyone who has crossed my path in the past almost forty years. Together, you have made my career memorable and enjoyable, and I am truly grateful.

“In the last year I have packed in so many wonderful experiences, and I have had the absolute privilege of farewelling many of the special people in my life, in person… Thank you for being a part of my life. I am being massively supported by Hospice, my medical team, my former colleagues, close family and friends.

“Take care and remember to try to do something every day that makes you happy.”

As Tracy’s Baker Tilly Staples Rodway “family”, we extend our deepest condolences to her nearest and dearest – Paul, her sister Linda, the rest of her family, her many friends and clients, and anyone who’s been graced with her time and presence over the years.  

Tracy’s fellow Auckland Corporate Advisory director Kevin Pitfield expressed the sentiments of all of us when he said the following to her recently: “You have made your mark on this world. Godspeed, (our) friend.”

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