Yvonne Angelina Lee, 1985—2016.
While writing this, I titled the document ‘Notes on Yvonne’ because how could I write anything other than notes about a woman so incredible? How could I summarise 30 years of someone’s life in anything other than jotting down memories, and thoughts of this most amazing individual?
It seems so unfair to write like this. How can we write such poetry and prose for a friend so young? How overwhelming, that we should need to talk in this way, and to grieve like this. I felt so sad, and so heartbroken that it was as if I was drunk, and it was horrific.
Surely this is some bad dream, or sick joke. Surely this can’t be the reality that we’re in—it must be far from reality, and the only way I can explain it is with tears.
Yvonne leaves a brother Lewis, who so beautifully and sweetly worries that she is warm, and wants to share his love for her one last time.
She leaves a mother, Christine, and father, Warrant, whose eldest and only daughter was the most incredible human.
How proud they must be of the daughter and sister they raised.
Her thoughtfulness, her ability to say just what you wanted to hear, to be personal, and her motherly desire to feed you was just something else.
How proud they must be to have raised a daughter who was and is revered. A daughter who was described by everyone as beautiful, caring, selfless, loving, smart, inspiring, and endless other ways.
At work and in play Yvonne was the same person.
Yvonne wanted community, and a sense of place. And boy did she get it. Without the impact she had on all of use here, we wouldn’t be together saying the same things. This gathering, in a place she loved, talking with people she loved.
Like some old-soul, each time I would arrive at her house the kettle would go on, and I’d soon be drinking some fragrant and exotic tea.
We always talked of her need to escape, and experience nature. To be outdoors and away from work. I suppose I never really understood just what escape for her could be.
To be free of the buzzing, self-serving modern world. Trapped in this need to be and to feel wild in nature. To know who she is and could be.
More intently, however, in her need to break free and to find the right energy, she saw an opportunity to try and change her world. She started Wildwon with Sally to make a difference.
Yvonne believe that if you’re not happy with the world, why not change it?
In our many and long conversations about life, and relationships, and people, Yvonne would tell me that she admired my ability to know what I want and how to get it, to have a sense of play and seriousness at the same time.
By comparison however, it is hard not to feel fraudulent.
It is hard not to compare myself to the person she was, and to wish that I had half of her tenacity, her warmth, and her desire to make work so much less than work.
The truth is that my admiration for her, the admiration that was echoed by all, is endless.
And I raved about her. I knew that anyone who met her would love her as much as I did, and would immediately find a friend as I did. So I sent so many people her way, for tea, for dumplings, for anything.
My own favourite memories of Yvonne involve the innocence she maintained.
While I’d known Yvonne through work for some time, my first notable encounter was when running into her at a gig at Good God. I was sweaty and heaving in the body heat of a hundred people, and she swanned over, her tall, slender body, and perfect fringe.
For my 30th birthday last year, Von arrived to the restaurant a week early. Calling me with excitement to ask where I was. When I told her she was a week early, she had a drink on my behalf anyway.
And I lived her life while she travelled Bhutan with Lewis. A trip I could never do, for the fear of such seclusion and remoteness is impossible for me to comprehend. I desire the buzzing, whirling speed of modern life. Her exact opposite.
While she travelled, I slept in her bed, I smelled her in her bed, I lived with her housemates—who she saw as her family—and I experienced her love for Abercrombie Street.
I mean, only Yvonne could love a street.
I only heard of her struggle a few weeks ago, and my deepest regret is that I didn’t try to get to her sooner. I suppose I just thought that she’d bounce back. She was so strong, and independent after all. I relied on her to pull through.
And then Saturday, the only thing I could do was to break down and proclaim ‘say it isn’t so!’.
But it is, and the stars will be dulled, the sun less bright. Dumplings, fresh bread, and tea will never be as warming or desired again.
For Yvonne, to leave us so abruptly, and without warning is something that will take a while to overcome.
If only by some stroke of serendipity someone noticed her, and spoke to her. If someone interrupted her, and made her some tea.
Perhaps she would have forgotten about her journey for a while, and forgotten why she wanted to go. Forgotten about everything and just found groundedness for a moment.
If I were to ask Yvonne what she’d want me to end with today, I think she would tell me two things:
So, with those words in mind, I think she would hate for us to use this opportunity to simply ask our friends and family if they’re ok, or if they need anything from us like some token gesture.
Instead, she would want us to use this as a burning platform to check-in with our own emotions. How are you? Are you ok? Can anyone help you move through anything?
If someone described so wonderfully strong, a visionary, someone encouraging and loving can leave us, then surely we are all susceptible to the same struggle.
If someone with such boundless energy can leave us then surely we’re all a lot weaker than we ever thought. Surely, we are all quite fragile indeed.
You don’t need to do anything alone, you don’t need to be strong or pretend that everything is ok. You are not expected to be perfect, or to attempt to attain perfection.
So I ask you all now, to take a deep breath, and to take a moment to think about how you’re doing. And in your hearts tell Yvonne how you are. I’m sure she’d love to know.
Yvonne, I love you now and forever.
A leader in design and strategy with a passion for human–centred design systems.