One morning I opened my mailbox at work and saw a rather out-of-the-ordinary email in my inbox. My boss had emailed all the staff an obituary of a friend, who although never worked in our organization, did collaborate with us on several projects. On reading his obituary, I was amazed at how little I knew of him. I had neither worked with him nor knew him personally - but after reading the obituary, I was filled with reverence and admiration for the man. This life lived passionately suddenly showed me several things –
He did not let his severe mental illness - bipolar disorder - prevent him from living a passionate life. In fact he even used his mental disorder - the very thing that troubled his life - as an opportunity and transformed it into something worthwhile.
Bob's story brought home to me the realizations that
- living fully is all about taking and accepting whatever life offers you - good and bad - and creating something worthwhile out of it.
- living fully is about giving generously, whatever talent you been blessed with, to the world without holding back any of it.
- Life is all about living zestfully
I did have a vague sense of what 'living fully' could be, but on reading Bob's story it suddenly became crystal clear. And for the first time I also realized that 'If Bob could do it, I can do it too!'
A Passionate life though too brief
Bob Beatty 21 May 1954 - 15 April 2001 by Colleagues and Friends
The rich fabric of Bob Beatty's life was not completely revealed until the day of his funeral. Gathered in Ainslie to say their farewell, people from the many strands of his eclectic life were pulled together for what was apparently the first time and only time.
Electrical engineer, environmental activist; specialist technical journalist, fringe dwelling musical wanderer; passionate community worker, inspired entrepreneur; skilled outdoorsman, party animal; huge happy robust Bob, stricken by bipolar disorder passed away on Easter Sunday, tragically.
The church overflowed as for nearly two hours family and friends spoke about the Bob Beatty each had known. The recollections that frequently bought hails of laughter from the gathering, were of his compassion, the random acts of generosity, the heretical non-conformism and most of all the completely fearless, uncompromising and unconventional intelligence that came shone so vividly through Bob's eyes.
Bob Beatty lived and worked passionately and creatively to catalyze social and environmental change. His brilliance and drive sometimes tipped him into manic genius and then sometimes beyond. However despite his long struggle with his own mental illness it was his apparently infinite enthusiasm and 'joie-de-vivre' that made him such an effective activist in the environment and mental health movements and such a fabulous friend and companion to so many.
Bob was born in Tasmania in 1954, one of seven brothers and sisters. He was raised in Canberra, attending the former Dickson High School. He studied electrical engineering at the University of New South Wales, graduated with honors and worked for several years as an engineer in the electricity supply industry.
In 1979 he turned to journalism, writing for engineering industry and professional publications including Engineers Australia, ERT Energy News, Electrical Engineer, National Constructor and Business Daily. Bob was never afraid to put his viewpoint forward, frequently clashing with editors over the environmental and ethical responsibilities of engineers.
He became editor of Electricity Week newsletter soon after it started in 1987 and purchased the title the next year. Bob made Electricity Week a groundbreaking publication. It provided the first independent forum for debate and examination of policy and practice throughout the early years of the huge transformation in the Australian electricity industry. Electricity Week developed into an open forum for exploring alternative market models, the editorial pages thrown open to all points of view, at a time when officialdom was doing the exact opposite.
Outside the office, Bob enjoyed outdoor and adventure sports and was skilful in kayak, on skateboard, cross-country skis, climbing rocks and body surfing. Strong as an ox, he pulled himself out of situations from which others would have needed rescue, including a near drowning in rapids on the Franklin River.
With the Wilderness Society he worked on the Franklin River campaign, spearheading an engineering critique of the Hydro Electric Commission's arguments for more dams. He was instrumental in founding the Society for Social Responsibility in Engineering, which was active throughout the 1980s.
As founding editor of the Australian Cogeneration Association's newsletter, Australian Independent Power, he produced an innovative consultation on the proposed National Grid and laid out the conceptual foundations for Australia's now well established green power scheme.
In 1995 Bob became ill and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar. Also known as manic depression, it affects the messaging systems in the brain. The illness is characterized by both manic and depressive phases.
Bob wrote about his own experiences with bi-polar. "For me mania arrives and worsens when it becomes logical to endow remote possibilities with progressively larger probabilities of fulfillment. The possibilities I have relied on over the course of my manias have ranged from solving all the world's problems within a few months to trusting people I barely know with valuable possessions. The depressive phase of the illness arrives... when after the mania has subsided I begin to face the consequences of my actions."
Bob's commitment to activism continued over the past five years in the mental health consumer movement. Bob's acceptance of his illness came from a deeply held belief that it was only by taking responsibility for your own health and working with others to be publicly active that we would overcome the stigma of mental illness. Bob was a founding member and office holder of the ACT Mental Health Consumer Network, one of the only Network's funded in the States/Territories, an employee with the Mental Health Foundation and the Chair of the Ministerial Mental Health Council in the ACT.
He became a well known and articulate spokesperson on mental illness. He was involved in many of the reforms which have taken place in the ACT mental health system and was deeply committed to consumer involvement in policy and service development. He encouraged other consumers to be active, governments to engage with and listen to consumer voices and service providers to see consumers as experts on their own illnesses.
He was a creative, courageous and supportive force within a health area that remains one of the most difficult areas of public policy. His death has been a huge loss for the ACT and for the many people in the ACT based consumer movement which he helped shape and support.
At Bob's funeral his partner, Margy Wylde-Browne, her son Jesse and Bob's family were joined by over 450 friends from the many different facets of his life. His casket probably said it all, decorated in great detail by loving artist friends as a multi-colored patchwork quilt.
Bob lived a good life, a passionate life, sometimes a deeply troubled life, but on the whole his was a life well lived.
The Bob Beatty Memorial Sustainable Energy Fund has been established by friends and family to carry on the active pursuit of some of the great dreams he dared to dream. It will support sustainable energy technologies and practices. Donations can be made at any Commonwealth Bank.
Most of us, because of our myopic vision, are generally unable to completely observe, understand and experience nature's underlying rhythm. Bipolar disorder, perhaps, manifests a time-compressed view of this rhythm i.e. the cycles of nature that are normally felt over years are suddenly experienced over a period of hours, days or weeks. Contrary to the societal stigma, in my opinion, Bipolar people are not only in tune with this rhythmic pulse of life but have an unparalleled opportunity to grasp the BIG picture. And, therefore, sometimes the insights of such people are extra-ordinary and 'unreal'. But that's what geniuses are made of. Bipolar "order" not disorder is perhaps a more appropriate description! Maybe that's what Bob wanted to show us?