A student scholarship fund has been established at TRU Open Learning in Irwin’s name. If you wish to contribute to this memorial you can find the form at: https://www.tru.ca/irwin
I’ve tried to write this a few times now, in bits and scraps. Initially I was just going to email it to a few people, and I still will, but I wanted to put it here too because it’s clear that there’s *many* more people out there just as sad as I am.
Our friend Irwin DeVries is gone.
I am hanging in the air somewhere over the Labrador Sea, bearing towards Nunavut and Canadian landfall, trying to finish this before I reach Vancouver. I feel confident I will because, as a friend and I have sometimes joked, most of flying from the UK to New Zealand is made up of just flying over Canada.
I started to write this as a sort of chronology of all the fun times I’d had with Irwin, a way of excavating some memories and putting them in order. But honestly, it was a boring read and not what I wanted to say about him at all.
Without Irwin I would never have had the biggest adventure of my life.
There are many moments of fun conversation, wry observation, warm care, and bad puns that I can remember. He got lost in the National Museum of Scotland once and that’s the first time, but not the last, that I heard the Robben Island story.
But Irwin is also the person who spoke for me to a recruiter in 2019, and suggested me as a good candidate for a role at Athabasca University. I was looking to make a big life change, and thanks to Irwin and others I felt that there might be a place for me in western Canada. I did my shortlisting interview for the role whilst I was in Kamloops in 2019 for a fantastic ETUG 25th anniversary conference (where I was one of a number who remember an epic jam session where Irwin was relentlessly enthusiastic to the point of near-eviction of our host). And when I was offered the role and was trying to make my mind up, Irwin was also the person who organised an informal chat with a colleague at AU to help me.
Irwin is the friend who reached out to me when the pandemic started, and I found myself in pandemic lockdown in Edmonton, 10 weeks into a new job in a new country. That kind of concern and kindness was an Irwin signature move.
Irwin is the friend who invited me shortly after to be a guest in his course on the MALAT program at Royal Roads. I’m not sure I ever fully explained to him what that meant to me. Beyond recognition from someone I admire and respect greatly, it was a lifeline when I was feeling lonely and isolated. He invited me back a number of times after that, and it gently morphed into a double act with myself and Brian Lamb.
When I talked to Irwin about relocating to Kamloops during the pandemic, when it was clear that I wasn’t going to be going home any time soon, he talked a little about his time there:
“The natural beauty is one of those things that deepens in you over time. It’s subtle but it grows into something that I’m not sure you ever shake.”
He was right. Of course. Having moved on, Kamloops remains under my skin now too.
So many of my best memories are just time spent talking with Irwin. Online, in pubs, coffee shops, art galleries, over food, walking somewhere. He loved music and he loved making it with his family and friends and I loved hearing him talk about it. He loved the people in his life too, to the point of being visibly moved.
Last year when he knew he was ill, but perhaps not how seriously we agreed to co-teach his MALAT course this April. I will be teaching it solo now and trying very hard not to disappoint him.
I came back to Vancouver in November last year when it was clear how ill he was. In our last meet up at Red Truck with him and Tannis I learned that we had both enjoyed sailing in our pasts.
There was just so much more to keep talking about.
So here I am, on a plane heading back to western Canada, desperately sad that I’m too late for just one last visit, but very much looking forward to spending good time with people who loved him and miss him too. Over the last few weeks I’ve learned just how many of them there are.