Obituary for Ian Davis 1958–2010

""It is with immeasurable sadness that the ALRC acknowledges that its much loved former Commissioner, Ian Peter Davis, passed away suddenly on 15 May 2010, at a swimming event in Noosa.

Ian was a distinguished leader in law reform, highly respected for his talents both nationally and internationally. Ian served as a full-time Commissioner of the ALRC from 2000 to 2004. He was the lead Commissioner on three of the ALRC’s references: the reviews of marine insurance law; the use of federal civil and administrative penalties in federal regulatory law; and the protection of classified and security sensitive information in the course of investigations and  proceedings. During this time Ian was also the Supervising Commissioner responsible for overseeing the biannual publication of the ALRC’s Reform journal, which explored a range of contemporary legal issues including: customary law; older people and the law; women in the law; and media and the courts.

At the time of his passing, Ian was a Commissioner of the Queensland Law Reform Commission, where he had served since July 2008. Ian led the inquiry into jury directions in 2009 and, more recently, was leading the review into jury selection.

Ian was a brilliant lawyer, with a sharp and inquiring mind. He displayed creativity, intellect, pragmatism—a skill that he had honed as a successful commercial litigation partner—and a profound sense of social justice in devising law reform solutions to address complex legal and social issues. He derived great personal and professional satisfaction from his work in law reform. The pursuit of fair and just laws for the benefit of all resonated strongly with his ideals and principles.

The full impact of Ian’s invaluable legacy to the reform of the law and legal practice, and the improvement of our justice system will, no doubt, become more evident and fully appreciated in the years to come. For example, one of the recommendations for which Ian was responsible in making in the 2004 review of the protection of classified and security sensitive information was recently implemented by the Australian Government. The recommendation was that a revised Australian Government Protective Security Manual should be placed in the public domain, with any sensitive protective security information removed. In June 2010, the Australian Government announced a new protective security policy framework to be published online with parts of it made publicly available for the first time, significantly increasing transparency.

Ian was an effortless and talented writer, a voracious reader, a profound thinker, a gifted linguist, and a polished and highly articulate public speaker. He demonstrated his natural flair for debating at the Australasian Law Reform Agencies Conference in Vanuatu in 2008, presenting a witty, intelligent and entertaining argument for the affirmative on the topic That Law Reform Bodies are the Best Vehicles for Law Reform.

As a seasoned expert in the methodology of open law reform processes, Ian contributed an informative and thoughtful essay, Targeted Consultations, to the book The Promise of Law Reform, which was published to celebrate the ALRC’s 30th anniversary in 2005.

Ian was much loved by colleagues and staff who highly valued his friendship. It is difficult to capture in words Ian’s unique blend of attributes. He was a wonderful man with a generous spirit, a big heart, a healthy sense of humour, a hearty laugh, and a zest for life. Ian is remembered with great affection as a cultured and multi-talented man with seemingly boundless energy who had a penchant for wearing bright colours, a knack for computer databases, and an eclectic range of skills and interests.

During his time at the ALRC, Ian was our in-house human encyclopaedia, travel consultant, good food guide and IT trouble shooter. He generated a sense of calm and collegiality. Team members have fond memories of relaxed team meetings convened over coffee, tea and sweets at nearby cafes. A skilled conversationalist, he was equally at ease discussing books, travel, history, politics, sport, swimming, food and life. His life appeared to epitomise an harmonious work-life balance.

Reading was one of his many passions. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.

Ian had a massive collection of fiction and non-fiction books on many subjects in various languages. We remember his joy in recounting how he had managed to track down copies of The Little Prince—one of his favourite children’s books—translated into a multitude of languages. He treasured his books. He devoured knowledge and retained it. He had, quite simply, an astonishing memory.

Ian was a master of language. He was a guru on grammar and on the origin of words—a skill that came to him quite naturally, being a fluent and proficient speaker of a number of languages. He was both the king of cryptic crosswords and the king of trivia—possessing an incredible general knowledge, enriched by his passion for travelling widely and learning about other cultures.

Ian was a humanitarian, a supporter of Amnesty International, and a volunteer at community legal centres. He was an elite ocean swimmer who contributed much to Masters Swimming Australia. He was a lover of the arts, music and theatre—passions he shared with his partner Jerry, of whom he spoke most fondly.

But what staff members especially remember is that, despite Ian’s sheer brilliance, enormous capacity and extraordinary talent, he was easy-going, exceedingly modest and unpretentious—never blowing his own trumpet. In many ways he did not need to. He had presence. Those fortunate enough to have had dealings with him felt the resonance of his true genius and charm. To quote from The Little Prince,

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.

In our hearts, we knew that Ian was an extraordinarily special man, and that we were blessed, enriched, and profoundly privileged to know him and to work alongside him. When Ian left the ALRC in 2004, staff and colleagues felt a deep sense of loss, and stayed in contact with him. In 2009, Ian travelled from Brisbane to Sydney to attend, together with his partner Jerry, Professor David Weisbrot’s surprise party to celebrate his 10th anniversary as President of the ALRC. When ALRC staff travelled to Brisbane to conduct consultations or attend conferences, they would make a point of catching up with Ian.

It is a sign of the high esteem and affection in which Ian was held that his funeral was attended by the immediate past President and past Deputy President of the ALRC, as well as many past and present ALRC staff from various parts of the organisation, including legal, executive support, finance, and communications.

Ian is, and will continue to be, deeply missed. In our hearts, he will always remain a special member of the ALRC family and, through our work as law reformers, we will continue to honour his memory, remembering and treasuring what he taught us. As Thomas Campbell said in Hallowed Ground,

To live in hearts we leave behind
Is not to die.

Past and present staff and members of the ALRC extend their deepest sympathy to Ian’s partner Jerry Scelzi, his parents Roy and Gwyn Davis, his brother Roger, his sister-in-law Nikki and his nephews Brett, Matt and Ben.

Vale Ian Davis.

Isabella Cosenza
Senior Legal Officer
July 2010