More than an estimated 200 people crowded into a Saanich church Sunday afternoon to remember David Armitage as a person who gave so much to his community despite having so little himself.
Held at Trinity Presbyterian Church not far from the wooden area where a passer-by discovered the body of Armitage on Dec. 28, the service drew the broad spectrum of people who had come to known him over the years.
The 58-year-old man had struggled with homelessness and hereditary schizophrenia.
Nonetheless, Armitage crossed countless social barriers in striking up friendships with individuals from a wide variety of walks of life living in and outside the Gorge-Tillicum area. He befriended community leaders, local entrepreneurs, their staff and their clients. They in turn joined friends and family members to remember Armitage as a person, who despite his mental illness, lived an impactful life on his own terms.
“He obviously had a huge impact on a lot of people,” said his sister Yvonne Becker, after the service. “Even if you are homeless, you can still make a difference in people’s lives.”
The official cause of Armitage’s death remains unknown. A spokesperson for the Office of Chief Coroner said Friday that the “case is still under investigation.” But if this piece of the puzzle that was Armitage’s life remains unsolved, Sunday’s service revealed a person, who tried to serve his community in any way he could.
In a statement read out by Rev. Reid Chudley, Becker said her brother had led an admirable life. “Dave left a legacy behind him we could all learn from,” it read. It is not about material things, including housing. “It really is about caring for others, brightening up someone’s day with a hello or a smile, giving of yourself, having gratitude and being a good citizen to our planet.”
Chudley also touched on this theme in his scripture reading as drawn from the gospels of Luke and Matthew that discuss the cost of discipleship.
“I think one important thing Dave reminded us of every day, is that we don’t need great love to make the life of those around us better,” he said. “Every tribute I read said that David was good at reminding the people he met that any moment and every moment can be a sacred moment.”
Anyone of us, rich or poor, can be the encouragement anybody needs at any given moment, said Chudley.
“Dave reminded us that basically having nothing of material value does not decrease the value or worth of your gifts to another,” he said.
Armitage’s four surviving adult siblings — Becker, Julie Cove another sister and a brother (who wish to go unnamed) — attended Sunday’s service. So did his daughter, who has two children, a son of two-and-a-half years, and a daughter of one month.
His — and their losses — resonated throughout the service and the remarks from friends and family.
Becker said she hoped that the death of her brother, once an individual full of vibrancy, will raise more awareness about the effects of mental illness.
“His mental illness took so much of that away from them,” her remarks read. “He missed out on being an uncle to many of his nieces and nephews who never really got a chance to know him, a father and grandfather for his daughter, a present brother, friend and partner.”
People could be seen crying and heard sobbing throughout the hour-long service, which featured a montage of photos showing Armitage during various stage of his life with a notable gap during the later decades of his life.
Perhaps the most touching and illustrative moment came at this visual tribute, which played against the musical background of the Hollies’ song ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.’
As the song fell silent, applause erupted.