Vale Chris Stokman, The Chronicle, 1 November 2016
In 2005, a group of community activists at the Canberra City Uniting Church established an Early Morning Centre to provide breakfast to those sleeping rough or doing it tough. For nine years, until her unexpected passing earlier this month, the Early Morning Centre has been run by Chris Stokman, one of Canberra's great community activists.
Chris loved Canberra. She had worked in the federal public service, she knew the nooks of our city, and she never wanted to live anywhere else. And she was the best of Canberra: a woman who was always more interested in helping others than looking after herself.
Under Chris's leadership, the Early Morning Centre grew from providing breakfast to offering legal support, basic medical care, shower facilities and laundry - critical services for those sleeping rough.
My office has tried to make a habit of supporting Chris's work by taking a group of Labor Party volunteers along every now and then to cook a barbecue lunch for the centre's guests. It is a practical gesture, worked up in conjunction with Early Morning Centre board member Margaret Watt. We bring the food, the Early Morning Centre provides the barbecue, and the guests get a good meal and see a few different faces. It is a simple and uncomplicated offering, inspired and guided by Chris's own approach to supporting our vulnerable Canberrans.
As her brother Michael Cheyne recalls, Chris could never afford a house, drove an old car, and never collected a fat pay cheque. Her death made me think of David Brooks's book, The Road to Character, which argues that we often place too much emphasis on "CV virtues", such as awards, promotions and possessions. Instead, he says, we ought to focus on "eulogy virtues": how we made people feel, whether we treated them with dignity, whether we made their lives better.
The memory of Chris Stokman should inspire all of us to do a better job in our lives, to reach out to the most vulnerable, and to see those who are doing it tough as people just like us—never to be pitied or scorned; always to be respected.
Chris leaves behind the love and respect she earned through a life well lived.