When I walked into work on the morning of 6 December I was besieged with text and voice messages. One was from a friend saying she was thinking of me and to give her a call if I needed to talk. “About what?” I wondered. The next message answered my question: “Is it true? Has Stella passed away?”
Stella Young and I first met a few years ago when I interviewed her over the phone for an article on disability and sexuality. Our initial face-to-face meeting occurred a year later at a Christmas party. I remember everyone getting excited when she entered the room and I had to work up the courage to introduce myself.
We rarely saw each other socially but I was comfortable enough to seek her advice for a couple of projects and she published one of my articles on her Ramp Up site. I admired her from afar when she MC’d the NDIS rally at Federation Square and energised the crowd as they chanted their demands. I particularly recall watching her on Q&A, when she humanised the current funding crisis in stating that some disabled people could only have one shower a week, and her wonderful TED talk that had the audience engrossed.
Stella articulated disability issues with such insight, wisdom and confidence. When she spoke people really listened and understood. People respected her and went to her when they needed a quote, a fact, advice or encouragement. And it wasn’t only her intelligence that captivated her audiences. Stella really had a wicked sense of humour. When Stella wasn’t writing for Ramp Up, ABC News, the MamaMia website and many other publications, she spent her time as a stand-up comedian, performing at events like the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. She was so good at finding humour in her daily life that she won the award for best new performer this year.
Stella is already sorely missed. Yes, her passion, dedication, spark and courage can never be replaced. The greatest tribute we can pay to Stella’s life, however, is not to mourn her loss, but to follow her example. We have some amazing advocates in the disability community and now we need them even more. I encourage everyone to speak up and to take Stella’s lead. Stella, you will continue to motivate us to speak up and your work will continue in each of us.