VALE ANNIE AND JACK
Annie Cranston was the (beautiful) face of NUAA’s Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) for close to 15 years (1998 – 2013). When she sadly passed on from breast cancer on 25 January 2019, she left behind many devastated friends and colleagues.
Annie was liked and respected by all she came in contact with – staff, service users and industry allies alike. She loved her job and was fabulous at it; she very much regretted having to resign due to ill health.
Annie genuinely cared about the health of everyone who came through the doors. Her kind and open manner, combined with her lived experience and exceptional knowledge of harm reduction, consolidated NUAA’s now rock-solid reputation as a caring, non-discriminatory service offering accurate, up-to-date peer advice and expertise.
Here is what some of the NUAA staff said about her – and “so say all of us”:
Annie always had a smile on her face and made everyone feel welcome at NUAA’s NSP. If I close my eyes I can still hear her giving harm reduction advice to people coming through the door: "Don’t forget to swab your spoon! Only use the inside of the cotton ball!...” Annie was a rare person who never had a mean word to say about anyone. In fact, the exact opposite is true - Annie always had a kind word for everyone and always saw the best in people (even when I thought they didn’t deserve it!).
Annie was one of the kindest people I have ever met. She was a beautiful person who opened her heart to everyone. She would walk into work and give everyone a hug – and when you had been hugged by Annie, you knew it! She went out of her way to connect with people. She remembered things about people – the names of their kids, their dogs, the things important to them, and she asked about them every time she saw them. The service users loved her. She gave great advice with an open heart. She was 100% genuine. It broke her heart to leave NUAA and its broken mine that she has left us.
Working with Annie was always a hoot and a laugh −she made work enjoyable. When I started at NUAA I was disappointed that I didn’t get an office upstairs, my desk was down in the NSP, but when I had to move upstairs the thing I missed most was no longer sharing a space with Annie. I missed our gossip sessions over a cuppa and cigarette and yes, we did occasionally get work done. Even though Annie was sick and ended up having to leave NUAA for her health, she always felt bigger than life and had amazing stories to tell about her life adventures and travels. She definitely lived life to the fullest and she will be missed. Every time I swab a spoon, I remember her advice (she was big on swabbing) and her smile.
The things I remember most about Annie are her kindness and her gentleness. She was always genuinely interested in people and took the time to make them feel comfortable and cared for. You often hear it said that someone is a “people person”; well Annie was more a “people whisperer”. She made you feel special. She could really calm people down – she was great at de-escalating drama. She didn’t have a jot of judgmentalism or discrimination about her. She respected the choices that people made and stood tall as a user herself. She will be sorely missed.
Jack Walsh, partner to User’s News’ editor Leah McLeod for over 20 years, died of a brain tumour on 5 March 2019.
Jack was crazily supportive and proud of Leah’s association with NUAA over the years, and that included hearing/ reading/viewing every raw article-in-progress, cover mock-up and comic script for UN since issue #67 and Insider’s News since the beginning. He would have been upset to know that he had contributed to this edition (#92) going out late.
Jack started using in his teens and loved to tell stories of matchboxes filled with rock that he hid in his Indian motorbike. That’s when he got hep C and getting it cured with the new treatments was cause for great celebration, especially after failing with interferon. He spent the last 17 years on methadone. It wasn’t anything to do with how he died, but he did it so he could look after his family, so it had a lot to do with how he lived.
If you hung around the Cross in the 90s or early 2000s, you may have known Jack. He spent several years working at St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst - as a detox worker at Gorman House and on the phones at the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS), and then as a Health Education Officer at Kirketon Road (KRC). He was well known among peers for giving people boxes of fits and water in a time when equipment was eked out in limited supply, 1 at a time. He gave respect and kindness in king-size amounts as well. He was fiercely protective of vulnerable people, because he knew what it felt like. He was particularly proud of walking the first Mardigras march in support. Sadly when he was ‘outed’ at work as a user, he found himself on the pointy end of stigma and discrimination.
His last brush with stigma and discrimination came about 30 hours before he died. He had not had methadone or illicit drugs for a few months. He had become bed-ridden and incontinent then he lost his ability to eat, speak, recognise anyone. He was unconscious and struggling for each breath when this nurse hand-over was over-heard: “This is John Walsh. He has a history of drug abuse…”.
Jack was of course, like all of us, so much more than a drug user. He was funny, loving, smart and a talented artist, musician and poet. He was primary carer for Leah’s and his daughter and he did that with pride. He loved his eldest daughter from a previous marriage whole-heartedly. He had an abiding interest in cryptozoology. His deepest regret was that he never connected with a Blue Mountains yowie, although he might have seen one from the train once. Let’s hope that right now he’s sitting around a campfire with some yowies in the great beyond.
Jack spent his last days on a morphine drip. We call this a silver lining.
He will be remembered with love. May he rest in peaches.