Victoria’s downtown core lost a principal figure in the community recently.
David Irwin, more commonly known as “the pencil guy,” for his penance to hand out pens and pencils on the corner of Blanshard and View streets was widely known for his friendly conversations with anyone stopping by.
While he always appeared happy and kind, many people didn’t know his back story. As a part of a spring appeal project with Pacifica Housing – Irwin lived at their Wilson’s Walk complex – he shared his story with staff.
Passersby have been able to read it, after a copy was attached to the lamp post on the corner where Irwin spent many of his days.
“I grew up in a loving family in James Bay with my parents and grandparents being in the same home,” his story reads. “We were rich in love and I feel like I was really blessed. I became an owner of a successful bus company, and later I met my beautiful wife and had a son.”
But then, tragedy struck. One day while he was working, his wife and son were killed by a drunk driver.
“The death of my family sent me into a downward spiral. Me and Jack Daniels became very good friends,” he said. “I couldn’t work and I couldn’t drive … I hurt so much. All I could think of was that I wanted to be with my wife and child.”
Irwin eventually used up all the savings he had, and began to live on the streets.
|David Irwin “The pencil guy” is being remembered with a small memorial at Blanshard and View Streets. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS|
He struggled for a while, but had a life-altering moment when he woke up one morning in a gutter.
“There was a voice saying ‘David, wake up! Open your eyes! Take a look at yourself!’” he wrote. “I looked at myself, I was filthy from head to toe. I stopped drinking that day and haven’t touched a drop again.”
Irwin stayed sober, but didn’t know where to live or what to do, so he started to give out pencils on the street, earning his nickname, “the pencil guy.”
Shortly after, he was approached by staff from Pacifica Housing who were able to find him an apartment.
Harrison Ellis, acting manager of fund development and communications at Pacifica, spoke often with Irwin.
“He was always just really sweet and friendly. When we spoke last he still had a sense of humour and seemed optimistic and positive despite the circumstances,” Ellis said. “The Pacifica family will miss him.”
The last time the two spoke a few weeks ago, Irwin had some bad news.
“He told me that he had cancer, and that he had just gotten out of the hospital,” Ellis said.
Irwin passed away a short time later. Ellis wasn’t aware if he had died in hospital or whether there had already been a funeral service.
Pacifica staff went down to Blanshard and View streets to put up a small memorial in Irwin’s honour that shared his story. Since it was erected, many people have stopped and remembered the “pencil guy” leaving notes on his memorial.
One passerby named Christina, who would only give her first name, said she remembered him well.
“I remember seeing him almost every day there, he really liked to say ‘hi’ to my dog. He said ‘hi’ to everyone,”she said. “I just remember he was a friendly guy, he really liked to talk to people.”
On the Victoria News Facebook page, many people have posted condolences and memories about Irwin.
To learn more about Pacifica Housing, visit PacificaHousing.ca.