Eulogy for Ian Davis
Ian’s partner, Jerry, his Mum and Dad and brother Roger, their families
Ian Davis’s life ended as he lived it: full of joie de vivre, lived to the max.
He was in every sense a star.
When Jerry, and Ian’s brother Roger, asked me to speak today I was very
honoured. I speak both from my perspective as a colleague and friend but
also on behalf of the many people in Queensland whom Ian worked with
and befriended over the last two years. Jerry told me last week that Ian
enjoyed working at the Queensland Law Reform Commission and loved
the work. It made him proud to be a lawyer again. But friends he could
not have loved being there as much as we loved having him with us.
Last week we posted the following notice on the Commission’s website:
The Queensland Law Reform Commission has lost a great friend and
colleague this week with the sudden death of its full-time member,
Since Ian’s appointment in July 2008, he made an enormous
contribution to the Commission, in particular to its work on juries.
He was responsible for the completion of the Jury Directions review
in 2009 and, more recently, was leading the Jury Selection review.
Ian was greatly admired both personally and professionally for his
intellect and judgment, as well as for the enthusiasm and drive which
he brought to all of his endeavours.
Ian also served as a Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform
Commission from 2000 to 2004....
He will be greatly missed by everyone at the Queensland Law
Reform Commission and by his many colleagues in the wider law
reform community in Australia and overseas.
The Australian Law Reform Commission said of him:
It is with great sorrow that the Australian Law Reform Commission
acknowledges the recent sudden passing of Ian Davis of the
Queensland Law Reform Commission.
Ian served as a Commissioner of the ALRC from 2000 to 2004,
leading reviews of marine insurance law, the use of federal civil and
administrative penalties, and the protection of classified and security
sensitive information. He was a highly valued member — and much
loved colleague — of the ALRC.
The announcement was accompanied by some wonderful photos of Ian
taken at the Australasian Law Reform Agencies Conference in Vanuatu
On 19 May, the Attorney-General for Queensland, the Honourable
Cameron Dick, paid a public tribute to Ian in the State Parliament saying:
I would like to take a few moments to express my sympathy and
sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr Ian Davis, a full-
time member of the Queensland Law Reform Commission. Ian
passed away suddenly at the weekend, and his death has come as a
great shock to the members and staff of the Queensland Law Reform
Commission and to the Queensland legal fraternity. Ian had
previously been a Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform
Commission and was a highly respected member of the profession.
He will be sadly missed.
He is recognised internationally. The British Columbia Law Institute in
Canada wrote to the Commission last week:
His wit, energy and professionalism crossed many borders. He was
much esteemed within ours and will be greatly missed.
The international law reform community has lost a pillar. We have
all lost a great colleague.
Ian was a major public figure. But none of these public announcements
go anywhere near describing the man we all knew and loved. He was a
most multi-talented man: a true polymath.
Let me try to put some reflections, brought together from the many
people who have contacted me about Ian, into words. Ian had a very rich
professional and personal life but there was no bifurcation in his
personality. He was a complex and interesting man and always,
As Mark Antony said in Julius Caesar
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a man!”
There are men who are great lawyers and Ian was such a man. He
graduated in Arts and Law from Sydney University and then worked as
Associate to the Honourable Justice Franki in the Federal Court. He was
a highly successful commercial litigator: becoming a partner at Ebsworth
and Ebsworth for 11 years and more recently was a consultant at another
commercial law firm in Sydney. He was appointed a notary public in
1994 and lectured in his areas of legal expertise; but the love of his
working life was law reform. He joined the Australian Law Reform
Commission in 2000 and spent three very productive years there.
There are men who are great law reformers and Ian was such a man. One
of our part-time Commissioners, Brian Herd, himself a solicitor, said of
Ian showed a refreshing courage and conviction — transforming his
career from the pragmatic rewards of working in the law to the
principled rewards of reforming the law … He is much to be
admired, respected and remembered.
Another part-time Commissioner whom Ian replaced as full time
Commissioner, Associate Professor Ben White, said of Ian:
I was very pleased when a lawyer of Ian's calibre was appointed to
the role — to have someone of his ability to be interested in working
for the public good.
Another of our part-time Commissioners, John Bond SC, said:
He was a good lawyer and wrote well. He brought a mature and
independent judgment to the matters into which he was asked to
enquire … Plus he was a good guy and fun to have around.
The capacity for law reform drew together all of his many talents: his
personal charm and his brilliance both as a lawyer and creative problem
solver. He was principled, independent and altruistic.
I well remember when he came to our Commission for interview. We
were all bowled over and wouldn’t let him return to Sydney until we had
offered him the position as full time Commissioner. Such positions are
like hen’s teeth for law reformers and must be approved by Governor in
Council, which promptly happened and he joined us: and as I said at the
beginning what a star!
He threw himself into every reference but his particular delight was the
reference on jury directions. This is a difficult area of the law with many
relevant, often tortuously worded, statutes, hundreds, if not thousands, of
court decisions, many of which have led to more obscurity in the law, and
practices which have grown up as a result of custom and usage which are
very difficult to change and where there is often open hostility to such
change. Ian took it on, devoured the law, listened, debated, consulted and
cajoled, and made it look easy and the result was a brilliant report: a
personal legacy to be immensely proud of which will undoubtedly have a
major influence on the development of the law.
He had almost finished writing a Discussion Paper on Jury Selection. It
will of course now be dedicated to him. And when the law is reformed
both by statute and in its practice those reforms will be a continuing
testament to his brilliance of analysis and innovative thinking.
The Queensland Commission members and staff will personally be
making a donation in Ian’s name as founding donor to Lawyers Beyond
Borders to honour him.
He deeply impressed my colleagues on the Supreme Court of Queensland
with whom he consulted. Justice Peter Applegarth said of him:
The quality of his work was outstanding. In time, his legacy to the
reform of the law and the improvement of the justice system will be
properly measured and fully appreciated.
The Senior Judge Administrator, Justice John Byrne said of him:
I met with him in the consultation phase and was most impressed.
And the report — may it be acted on — was first rate.
He was such a joy to have at the Commission. Claire Riethmuller, the
Director of the Commission, said of him:
The thing I will remember most about Ian is his joie de vivre. He
was so enthusiastic about everything — his friends, his work, his
many and varied interests. He threw himself into everything and
never did anything by halves.
Within the Commission, Ian’s energy was such a positive influence.
The great affection and respect he engendered within the
Commission … were no doubt due to the respect that he had for
Ian was incredibly capable — that goes without saying. His legal
acumen and his professionalism were outstanding, and were an
enormous asset to the Commission. But it his personal qualities that
will be sorely missed.
What were those personal qualities?
There are men of great intellect and Ian was such a man. Ian was a man
of great intellectual curiosity and not just in the law. He was a voracious
reader who loved both the solitary joy of reading but also, typically, the
more sociable joys of talking about the ideas in the books he devoured.
Paula Rogers who worked with him most closely on the jury references
shared her joy of working with Ian and the influence he had on her.
Ian’s first day at the office was 21 July 2008…
That means he was with us at the Commission for … 664 days. 664
is a special number: “664 is a value of n so that n (n+7) is a
palindrome”: [The palindrome if you want to check is 445, 544]. 1 I
think Ian would have liked that . It is just the sort of quirky factoid
he would have mentioned. And he'd have been able immediately to
rattle off an example of a palindrome — perhaps, on this occasion,
“Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?”
Nor would it surprise me if he knew the origins of the word —
allegedly referred to in Greek as karkinikê epigrafê, meaning crab
inscription, alluding to the backward movement of a crab, and being
coined in English from the Greek palin, for "again, back", and
dromos, meaning "a running". We might have talked about Bach’s
"Crab Cannon" and the crab cannon dialogue in Hofstadter’s book,
"Gödel, Escher, Bach". I remember Ian being astonished when he
saw that I was reading that book; I was equally surprised to see that
someone else even knew of the book, and it was with some delight
that I reported back to him when I finally finished it. We joked that
I’d earned an "I read Gödel, Escher, Bach" t-shirt!
In a sense, Ian was like that crab cannon: complex, full of surprises
and charm, but well-balanced and the same person whichever way
you approached him. He didn’t separate himself into ‘personal Ian’
and ‘work Ian’; he was Ian all the time. He didn’t leave other parts
of himself at home when he came to work. He didn’t hide other
parts of himself from us. He was something of an open book in that
way. Yet, he was also that rare sort of person who is all things to all
people, big and small. By example, and without even trying, he
helped to bring us out of our shells. It was as though he had flung
open a window that we didn’t know was there.
He had the knack of making everyone he encountered feel good
There are men who in spite of their own brilliance are modest and
generous and Ian was such a man. Rebecca Treston, one of our part-time
Commissioners, told me last week:
Most recently I spoke to Ian to tell him what a wonderful job I
thought he was doing with the Jury Reference, and how well written
the paper was. Without missing a beat, he told me he would pass on
my words to Paula as she had had an enormous input to the
reference. I don’t doubt that Paula had been an enormous help, but
equally I know that Ian had done fine work on the reference himself.
That he would attribute the praise for his work to another was
consistent with the generosity of spirit he always displayed.
There are men who love music, opera and theatre and Ian was such a
man. He usually arrived at the office carrying his ubiquitous orange
backpack and with earphones plugged in to something from his
omnivorous taste in music from high opera to Geoffrey Gurrumul
Yunupingu. As well as enjoying the arts as a consumer and an audience
member, he was particularly proud of Jerry’s singing ability.
There are men who love travel and languages and Ian was such a man.
He and Jerry had just returned from a wonderful holiday in Argentina and
a trip to Vietnam was planned. Unsurprisingly he had already started
lessons in Vietnamese and wowed his new teacher with his linguistic
ability and voracious appetite to master this difficult new task.
There are men who are great athletes and Ian was such a man competing
fiercely and at the highest level in Masters Swimming.
There are men of such charm and wit that they make friends everywhere
and are loved and admired. Ian was such a man. He made us laugh and
he laughed; as Rebecca Treston said to me his laugh, “burst forth from
him like a rushing river, large and engulfing, and completely infectious.”
There are men who treat all whom they meet with respect and Ian was
such a man. I often think it is the true mark of a person how they are
perceived not only by their professional colleagues but by the
administrative staff. Ian treated the staff of the Commission not only
with respect but with great warmth and friendship. He shared his joy in
reading, travel, swimming, coffee and adventures, both intellectual and
physical, with them and they loved him for it. Kahren Giles from our
office summed up her feelings about the man who encouraged her back
into competitive swimming:
Although I am so sad to think I will no longer have Ian to talk to and
have a much needed laugh with, I am pleased that my thoughts of
Ian at the end, are very pleasant. I was at the Sunshine Coast myself
that weekend, and made comment several times about the absolutely
beautiful day that it was. So I have this image of Ian, on a
magnificent blue sky day. Not one cloud in the sky, warm in the
sun, but cool in the shade. It would have been really chilly in the
water. But I can see him, very clearly, always the competitor, the
elite athlete, warming up for his swim. I can see him in the waters of
Noosa, he is serious about his swim, but he is happy because that is
what he enjoys doing. He is with friends, he is a healthy, fit 51 year
old man enjoying life to the maximum, still competing, still
improving, still loving life. It is a great picture which I will treasure.
Ian was happy. It is those left behind that are sad.
So what of my memories? As Chair of the Commission I had the utter
pleasure of working with a person who was a fine intellect, an effortless
writer, an extraordinarily interesting man, a creative thinker and problem
solver and a charming wit. Mind you, he could be a bit of a tease. Last
year we were to see the Minister on some important mission. I arrived at
the Commission a little early to prepare and if necessary worry a little.
Ian greeted me in his favourite open necked yellow shirt and a big grin.
Eventually and not without some trepidation I enquired, “Um, Ian, When
we see the Attorney…” “ yeah, yeah”, he interrupted, “ I’ve brought in a
suit, tie and white shirt!”
There are men who love openly and wholeheartedly and Ian was such a
man. Ian loved Jerry. He spoke about him constantly, his pride in Jerry’s
many accomplishments and his joy in his company and in the company of
Jerry’s large Italian family as well as his own more Anglo-Celtic family.
We had the pleasure of being with Jerry and Ian at the Commission’s
Christmas party last year. Rebecca Treston described that experience
I remember with pleasure sitting next to Ian and Jerry at the
Christmas party last year. What simply delightful company they
were together, and I can’t begin to imagine the grief he must now
feel at the loss of such a fine and loving partner.
There are men who are lawyers, men who are law reformers and men
who are witty and wise. There are men who are great readers and lovers
of the arts and men who are elite sportsmen. There are men who are
great friends and true lovers. But the world has only known one man
who had all of those qualities. Ian was that man, that wonderful man and
we honour him today and will remember him always.
There is no person for whom Horatio’s words to a dying Hamlet have
Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!