QLS Diverse Abilities Network: Remembering Oliver Collins

I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Ollie through the establishment of QLS Diverse Abilities Network. Ollie was a founding member and though I never had the opportunity to meet him in person (thanks, COVID-19), he made an undeniable impact on me, the members of the network and the community at large.

Ollie introduced himself and shared that at eighteen months old, he was diagnosed with a rare, neuromuscular condition called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or FOP for short. He explained that this condition caused his muscles, tendons, and ligaments to turn to bone and for the bone to grow on top of other bone and throughout joints. He shared how this condition results in very limited movement; essentially, encasing his body in a second skeleton. 

One thing’s for sure, I’ve entered a new phase of my journey now, and it’s definitely more of an uphill battle. But I’m choosing to still look forward – because I reckon there’s plenty of exciting, amazing, wonderful things yet to come my way.”

– Oliver Collins
via Instagram 17.04.2021
captioned on a picture of Ollie walking his dog
& sporting his sparkling Louboutin shoes

This was the first time I had heard of FOP, let alone known someone inflicted with such a condition. Had I not learned more about the condition, I would have never known the amount of pain and suffering Ollie experienced on a regular basis. Ollie was such a positive person; it was easy to forget how much pain he suffered, but he also ensured that his identity expanded beyond his disability. 

Oliver Collins was a lawyer, writer, advocate, friend, fashion icon, role model and by far one of the kindest souls I’ve ever met.

We asked the Diverse Abilities Network to share a few words about Ollie, here’s what they had to say:

Fiona Yeang

Like Sheetal, thanks to COVID-19 I didn’t get the chance to meet Ollie in person, but I was very fortunate to get to know him a little over the last year through virtual meetings, emails and social media. I feel incredibly lucky to have met such a supportive, gentle, beautiful person, who approached life with determination and optimism and a passion to advocate for people with disabilities.  Ollie was unique in so many ways, not least as a lawyer without the requisite lawyer’s ego. My life, like that of many others, will be richer for having known him and sadder for only knowing him for such a short time.”           

Carol Taylor

“Zoom meetings are no measure for the depth of a man, but such as it is I have known Oliver to be smart, funny and understanding, and always professional. What resonates for me of course, was the manner of his departing. I don’t know the details, I have only read that he fell from his wheelchair and suffered a brain injury. If Oliver’s disability had a causal relationship to his death, then that, of course, is a tragedy. But if the only thing we remember of his death is that he fell from his wheelchair, then that too is a tragedy.  Oliver, like all of us, was so much more than the sum of his disabilities. In remembering his life should we not also commemorate his death with the simple observation that Disability does not excuse death, any more than it should restrict a well-lived life.  He will be sadly missed.”                                                                                         

Michelle Kleinig

“Like some other QLS Diverse Abilities Network members sadly I never met Oliver in person, we only connected virtually during meetings and on social media. However, his enthusiasm and passion for advocating for the disabled were inspirational and contagious. He touched my life as he touched many, many others.”  

Rebecca Niebler

“Oliver, I am so glad I was able to meet you. I have so much respect for you and the way you lived your life. I didn’t know you very well, but your spark and positivity always shone through in every interaction. I remember bumping into you not long ago, on a weekend morning walk. You were enjoying breakfast at the Moray Café with your family, and we had a short but lovely chat. I am now so grateful for this chance meeting because I’ll forever think of you when I walk past the café, remembering how you soaked up the good things in life. Thank you for the way you showed up.”

Michael Bidwell

“Shortly after our first meeting, Ollie reached out to me inquisitive about what I meant when I said everyone should ‘Live Out Loud’. We discussed the bigger piece around visibility and storytelling and we laughed about how our bold fashion choices also make an impact. We agreed that some of us were not born to follow a traditional path in a world that traditionally sought to exclude us – it would take some of us to dare to create a new path. Ollie created a new path for those with diverse abilities. In addition to leaving his kindness and fabulousness on this new path, Ollie personally knocked down some barriers so that the next person can travel down the path with less fear and more dreams.”      

Vanessa Krulin                                               

“I never had the privilege of meeting Ollie in person, only virtually. Still, his kindness, positivity, intelligence, and quiet strength radiated through the screen. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with him, share ideas, some laughs, to have had the benefit of his insight. I wish we could have had longer to keep these ideas and conversations going. To me, his legacy and impact are profound – and one of kindness, contribution, and inspiration.”

Theresa Jennings

“Ollie was the first lawyer to reach out to be involved in a network for lawyers with diverse abilities after he read about my presentation to QLS on the International Day of Disabled Persons in 2019. His vision for what the Diverse Abilities Network could achieve was to help bring to light that people with disabilities are equally capable of performing the same job as able-bodied people. Yes, we may need special equipment to help us, but Ollie wanted to encourage people with diverse abilities that they could work in the legal field if they wanted to. If you haven’t read his article titled ‘The Diversity of Ability’ published in Proctor on 30 July 2020 then I highly encourage you to read this. Ollie’s desire for inclusivity and equality shone through in his words and his message was simple: let’s welcome and embrace those in our profession and those wishing to enter our profession with a diverse ability because the challenges we face are huge already. Goodbye Ollie, you will be missed.”                               

Henry Macphillamy

“I was privileged to go through the College of Law with Ollie and the KWM graduate cohort in 2017 and was delighted when our paths crossed again when I joined the diverse abilities network. Every time we interacted I got a sense of how grounded he was as an individual – thoughtful and articulate. His example is a good reminder to us all that we actually can make a difference if we seek to do so.”                                           

Goodbye, Ollie. What you achieved for inclusion in building up the diverse abilities network will not be forgotten. The best way I can think to honour your memory is to bring your vision to life and start living it as you did.

Re-reading his last words on Instagram, I think Ollie has entered a new phase in his journey; as a legacy. A legacy of kindness, compassion and inclusion.

So today and every day hereafter, I encourage you to join us in honouring Ollie and his legacy by listening, learning, creating and holding space for our colleagues, friends and clients with diverse abilities because when we know better, we can do better – and we can be better.

Vale Oliver Collins

Article written by Sheetal Deo, member of the Diverse Abilites Network.

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