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In Memoriam: Honouring Our Torch Bearers

Editor's Note: The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) announces the passing of four valued members and advocates. By devoting their time, talents, skills and energy, these individuals have helped to foster full and equal participation of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted persons in Canadian society. Whether within AEBC itself or in the blindness community at large, focusing on specific issues or on a broad range, they have blazed a trail of commitment, generosity and excellence. They now pass the torch on. AEBC remembers, thanks and salutes them.

Dr. Gerry Dirks of Victoria, British Columbia, died on February 28, 2008. Born and raised in Vancouver, he attended the Jericho Hill School for the Blind and later the integrated school system. He earned his first degree from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and a Masters and PhD from the University of Toronto. Gerry was Professor of Political Science at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he taught for over 30 years and shared Department Head roles with is wife. After his official retirement and return to the west coast, Gerry continued teaching as a Visiting Professor at the University of Victoria.

He dedicated many years of volunteer service to national organizations and local charities. Besides being a member of AEBC's Victoria Chapter, he was actively involved in the Vancouver CNIB Blind Men's Club and he was also a major player in the establishment of VoicePrint Canada, a division of the National Broadcast Reading Service, having been its first National Board Chair. He will be greatly missed by the many friends and colleagues he touched over his many years of selfless service. To many, Gerry was an icon of a "self-made blind person."

He leaves behind his wife of 40 years, Dr. Patricia Dirks, his mother and sister.

Theresa Marie Andrews, Past President of AEBC's Lower Mainland Chapter in Vancouver, BC, died suddenly on February 11, 2008. Blind from birth, she was a high school swimmer and runner, and attended UBC where she earned a B.A. in general arts and an M.Ed in Counselling Psychology. Theresa worked as a counsellor at CNIB's Bowen Lodge; braille transcription and computer technologist at Crane Library, UBC; and teaching assistant in Vancouver Community College's Vision Program.

She served on the boards of VoicePrint Canada and PAWS International Resource Center, the latter being an organization dedicated to guide dog issues. She was also a member of BC Blind Sports and of the Western Association of Persons with Vision Impairment.

Theresa is survived by partner Paul Thiele, guide dog Finch, her brothers and sisters, and their families.

On December 4, 2007, Rick Oakes of Kelowna, BC, passed away peacefully at the age of 56. Vision-impaired since birth, Rick lost the remainder of his sight in his mid 30's. He and his wife joined the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (now AEBC) in 1994, and both have been active members ever since. Rick served on our National Board in the offices of 2nd Vice President and Director at Large, and was instrumental in helping the NFB:AE/AEBC begin independent fundraising. He also held positions on boards of other non-profit service clubs, such as President of the Western Association of the Visually Handicapped.

Earlier in his life, Rick worked for CaterPlan, a division of CNIB, and later as District Manager. In the intervening years, he worked in the music industry, retailing and wholesaling electronic keyboards throughout Canada's four westernmost provinces. During a stint in Calgary, Alberta, he was hired to be the organist at home games for the Calgary Flames hockey team.

Rick is survived by his wife Chantal, daughters Whitney and Tiffany, his guide dog Christopher, and several siblings. Memorial donations, which will go toward setting up a scholarship fund in Rick's name, may be made to the Alliance For Equality of Blind Canadians.

AEBC's Toronto, Ontario, Chapter lost one of its most beloved members, Don Jacobs, on February 26, 2008. Don had been an integral member of the chapter for many years. His kindness, humour and generous nature will be sorely missed, as well as his passion and enthusiasm. Our thoughts are with his wife Bubbles and the entire family.