Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ian Stokes

I'm back in Canberra for Chinese New Year.

I was chatting to my mum and she mentioned, out of the blue, that the window cleaner guy at Dickson had passed away.

"Oh no", I said. "I know the guy. His name is Ian."

I first met Ian back in the late 1990s when I was a volunteer at the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre (WRLC) in Canberra. I was then a Science/Law student studying at the ANU. On a Tuesday night, the WRLC would offer free legal advice for anyone who needed assistance. Law students would see the clients first to take down the facts and then talk to the lawyers in a back room to discuss solutions/options. We would then meet the clients together and the student would then have the opportunity to listen to the lawyers giving the advice to the clients. It was a great learning opportunity for me. And for an idealistic uni student, my time working at the night time legal advice service of the WRLC was immensely rewarding – and the only time I came close to making use of my law training before I embarked on my career as a scientist.

I have few memories of the many dozens of clients I helped. In fact, I can only remember two specific cases. I remember the old lady who came to see us because she had broken her glasses when she tripped and fell in a darkened cinema. And I remember Ian.

I won't go into the details of why Ian had come in to seek legal advice that night. It doesn't really matter. I'm not even sure why, of all the people I met during my time volunteering at the WRLC (i.e. the wonderful lawyers, fellow students and clients), Ian's is the only name I remember. Ian Stokes.

Months later, whilst waiting in my car at an intersection in Dickson, I recognised Ian as he went about his business cleaning people's car windows. He didn't recognise me.

And so it was, Ian was a regular at that intersection in Dickson, long after I had graduated from uni and moved away from Canberra.

Late last year, I was visiting my friend Pete. He and his wife just had a baby. Leaving their place, I happen to drive up to the intersection and Ian was there. He looked very different from the person I remembered. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it would be the last time I'd see him.

I did a search of The Canberra Times. It was nice to see that Ian was a much loved member of the Canberra community with several articles written about his passing. I wonder what he'd be thinking if he knew of the positive impact he had on so many people in the community and how much he'll be missed.


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