Once you had seen it, you could never forget her smile. Nor the sound of her laugh, if ever you heard it. Chances are that you would have. She laughed often and made us laugh too. You would expect that from a comedian. But of course, Stella Young was more than that. She was remarkably more. Sadly, she died on 6 December at the age of 32.
A communicator and teacher
Stella was greatly loved and admired by many in the disability community and beyond. She was an exceptionally skilled communicator. Her words, whether written or spoken, were direct and influential. They were usually pretty funny too, as her infamous TEDx talk shows. Other especially memorable examples of her talent can be found in two letters she wrote to herself. One was addressed to 16 year old Stella. The other was to her 80 year old self. These letters resonate with Stella’s wry wit. They also showcase her warmth and her wisdom.
She once said that said she “desperately wanted to be a teacher”. However, she never gained ongoing employment in a school classroom. Nor did she get to host Play School, despite her wish to do so. But of course that didn’t stop her. Why would it? In so many ways and in an impressive range of places, Stella was a teacher. She was a good one too.
The ideas and issues she raised as editor of Ramp Up and elsewhere could be seen as either provocative or obvious. It depends on how you move through the world. You may not have agreed with everything she said. But it’s unlikely she would have wanted you to anyway. Rather, Stella delighted in nudging people to think and to question. Her words compelled us to challenge our attitudes towards ourselves and others. It’s a rare skill and she used it well.
Stella’s personal belief was that “disability comes with as much privilege as it does disadvantage”. She confronted prejudice with grace. But when necessary, she also fought it with wit and fire. She was a vibrant disability activist but her advocacy went much further. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine an injustice or inequality that Stella wasn’t willing to oppose.
She cared deeply about gay rights and women’s safety, among many other issues. Her family have asked people to consider making a donation to Domestic Violence Victoria in her honour. Their statement notes this is “one of the causes Stella felt intensely passionate about”.
Strong, stroppy and luminous
Hundreds of heartfelt tributes have been made to Stella since her death. Friends, colleagues and politicians have all shared their shock and sadness, as well as their respect for this wonderful woman. Commentator Helen Razer described her friend as a “luminous bruiser”. This striking image aptly captures both Stella’s light and her fight. In her own words, she was “a proper kind of stroppy person” who wanted to be remembered as “a strong, fierce, flawed adult woman”.
It is alarmingly easy to praise Stella for being extraordinary. She achieved a great deal in her life and did so in her own, sparkling style. A lot of us are better off today as a result of her efforts. And countless people now think differently about disability because of her. We can – and should – give thanks for that.
To many, however, to her family and friends, she was just Stella. Not a superhero. Not a saint. Simply Stella. The one and only.
She will be missed.