Megaphone News: Michael Illing, our friend and Megaphone vendor, passed away on December 7 in Vancouver
Michael Illing: October 25, 1959 – December 7, 2016
Together with Mike’s family, Megaphone staff wrote this obituary to remember Mike and celebrate his impact on the world.
Born in Ottawa, Ontario, the son of Roy and Joyce, Michael spent his first five years in Iran, where his father worked in the oil industry. By age five, Michael had travelled around the world three times. After resettling in Canada, his family moved to Victoria, Montreal, and Ottawa. After high school, Mike lived in Halifax where he worked for the Coast Guard. After settling in Vancouver, Mike started a family with Sue Walker; their son Yasha Walker-Illing joined their world and as a family they travelled through Mexico and the United States. Later in life, Mike married, living near Commercial Drive with his wife. With Yasha, Mike and his wife traveled to and enjoyed Barbados and many adventures.
During his childhood in Iran, Michael developed a love for the desert. He carried this love and a fearless love of travel with him throughout his life, becoming very fond of Texas, Arizona, Mexico, and Guatemala where he traveled and lived at various times in his life.
Mike was particularly fond of Mexico where he volunteered his building skills on many housing projects, living in the communities he was helping. Michael liked adventure, it found him and he found it.
Michael had an extremely creative flair and design talent, and an intuitive appreciation of form, shape, dimension, texture, and colour. He could create and fix anything he wanted to. While working in the Vancouver film industry, Mike crafted masterpiece sets ranging from space ship interiors to cavernous alleyways and everything in between.
Mike is survived by his son Yasha Walker-Illing, his former partner Sue Walker, his dad Roy Illing, siblings Debra and David, and many cousins.
The Vancouver Commercial Drive community was a vital, anchoring and supportive centre for Michael for more than 20 years, where he had established a home base and community of friends.
An old Commercial Drive friend of Michael’s was one of many to speak at his memorial in January. “We were part of a creative, bohemian sort of crew who hung out in a particular café on Commercial Drive about 20 years ago. Any time of the day you’d find at least a few of us there.”
Another important part of the Drive community for Mike, particularly later in life, was the Clean Break laundry program run by the Grandview Cavalry Baptist Church.
Ingrid Fluevog, who knew Mike for nine years through Clean Break said, “He was a gentle, caring man … he didn’t talk a lot about himself. But he never complained, never had a bad word to share about anybody.” Michael was known by many for this quiet caring and kindness.
His caring for his friend Al demonstrates the kindness and support Mike offered others. Al, an elderly gentleman who passed away in 2015, was a staple in the Commercial Drive community too. He worked at the Washing Wells Laundromat for years, where he became good friends with Mike through the Clean Break laundry program. As Al’s health failed and daily tasks became harder, Mike took careful loving care of Al, eventually moving in with him to help him with daily tasks. Al’s death in 2015 was a hard time for Mike.
Mike will be remembered by Megaphone staff for his quiet kindness, his creativity, and his wry humour. He’ll also be remembered for “the Megaphone rap”—a 30-second clip of hip-hop rhyming that he shared—something he came up with while he was selling, to pass the time and keep his mind busy.
Even when Michael (at times) had very little, he always had something to give in some way. Michael will be most remembered for the caring, gentle, active kindness at his core.
Mike was a Megaphone vendor for five years. He worked near the JJ Bean at 6th and Commercial, and outside the liquor store at Grant and Commercial. We often asked him if he’d like to be featured in a vendor profile, but he always said “No, not yet. I want to do it—but I want to do it when I’m in a better place in my life. When I’ve got a happy ending.”
Mike was homeless at the time of his death. While we don’t yet know exactly how he died, the short answer is homelessness. Health issues, stressors, and risk factors are multiplied when you’re without adequate housing. It is hard knowing that Mike’s death could have been prevented, given housing and some basic supports. Despite barriers of poverty, homelessness, and ill health, Mike contributed so much to the Megaphone and Commercial Drive communities. We’ll miss him, and in his memory we will work to ensure everyone has safe and affordable housing.
Michael’s spirit lives when we extend a kindness—big or small—a simple smile, a simple gesture, any act of kindness and help to someone else, any act to make someone smile or laugh. Do something kind and blame it on Michael: “Mike made me do it!” Those who wish to make memorial donations in memory of Michael can direct their donations to community services he cared about, and who cared about him:
Megaphone and Hope in Shadows: 121 Heatley Ave, Vancouver, BC, V6A 3E9 www.megaphonemagazine.com/donate.
Grandview Calvary Baptist Church: 1803 East 1st Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia, V5N1B2 Phone: 604-255-1411, Email: [email protected]