A Tribute to Shaun Smith
I first met Shaun Smith in mid-2014 and was immediately struck by a number of things. Firstly, he was a big man! Secondly, his passion for the conservation of rhinos was palpable – here was a man who understood the grave danger that these iconic animals were in and he was steadfast in his determination to do everything that he could to prevent these animals sliding into extinction in the wild. Shaun would often say “Ray, it’s a numbers game”. He understood that the rhino birth rate had to stay ahead of the kill rate otherwise the numbers just did not work and extinction in the wild was not just a possibility, it was a realistic consequence. Thirdly, Shaun was a true gentle giant. He seemed to me to have a calmness about him, that I really admired (and envied!)
Shaun had served his time at a Board level at another rhino conservation group and he and the late Dee Williamson soon joined our small group of believers at The Australian Rhino Project. Both Dee and Shaun turned out to be true advocates for our plan to translocate rhinos from Africa to Australia to breed them and then, in the fullness of time, return them (or their progeny) to Africa once the cursed threat of poaching had passed.
Shaun joined the Board of The Australian Rhino Project in March 2014 and he served with distinction with his measured input always being heard and respected.
I can remember so clearly one night almost two years ago when Shaun phoned me. His voice was quavering when he said “Ray, I’m in trouble. I saw the oncologist today. I have pancreatic cancer”. We spoke for a while and he finished the conversation by saying “I’m going to fight this bastard and I’m going to beat him”.
And so Shaun did – he fought and he fought and never gave up, even at the very end – all the time with Ally at his shoulder. I saw Shaun a few weeks ago and he was talking about going back to work. He said that he could not have come this far without Ally’s strength and support and the love of his beautiful girls – Sasha and Brodie. Shaun was always selfless; he was always concerned about others before even considering his own predicament.
Shaun loved rhinos and, what very few people know, he organised a dinner in 2014 to assist The Australian Rhino Project with funds – we didn’t have any! This was truly a lifeline for us in our very early days. Please see the photo below where Shaun is handing over the proceeds from the dinner. Shaun also introduced me to Simon Reeve, one of the finest gentlemen that I have been privileged to meet.
Shaun was a true family man. Every time that we spoke, Ally’s and the girls’ names would always come into the conversation. They were the sunshine in his life.
My life was made better by having Shaun in it and there is a hole now that he has gone. So many people talk the talk – particularly in conservation - Shaun truly walked the walk – he never wavered in is support for me and what we were trying to achieve at The Australian Rhino Project. I asked him if he would consider taking over from me – as far as I was concerned Shaun was my natural successor, he had the passion, he had the knowledge and he had steely determination to make things happen. And he never gave up. Sadly, this will now not come to pass- Shaun would have done a wonderful job.
Our thoughts and love go to Ally, Brodie and Sasha at this terrible time. Shaun was a wonderful man and we will miss him so very much.
Thanks for being part of the team, Shaun
Shaun’s farewell will take place at 3pm Friday, October 28 at the Magnolia Chapel Macquarie Cemetery, corner of Delhi and Plassey Roads, North Ryde.