It is a fairly simple plaque; the bronze gleams in the autumn sun as the plaque is as shiny and new as the fire hall it adorns. A small town comes together to celebrate the opening of this new fire hall, but it isn’t just the beautiful new hall they welcome; it is this memorial to a young man who was, undoubtedly, the best of us.
I have written about Bo Cooper many times; this may seem unusual given that due to circumstances and situation I never met him during his all too-brief time on this planet. But I have met his parents and his wife; his friends, his firefighter family and the many people his life touched.
And when I say he was the best of us, I mean it. Bo was a fighter – a firefighter, a MMA fighter, a cancer fighter – and if there is any word that springs to mind when I think of the people of this community it is that: fighter.
We have fought our way through so much in recent years; economic adversity and a raging wildfire being only two of the things we have faced. And we have met all of these challenges as fighters; resilient, determined and unwilling to ever give up.
Bo was a fighter. He fought for others when he fought fires, and he fought for himself during his battle with cancer. And Bo wasn’t just the best of us.
Bo brought out the best in us.
When I meet people – journalists, visitors – who ask me to summarize this community I tell them the story of Bo Cooper and how an entire region came together to fight with him. The wine raffles, the bake sales, the average, every day person who contributed whatever they could so one young man – a young man they often didn’t even know – could continue his fight.
Bo brought out the best in us; he brought us together in the most remarkable way, and I think sometimes that is what prepared us for how we faced the fire in 2016. We had found such strength in coming together for Bo; and when the fire threatened our community and began to singe the community bonds we had forged, we did what we knew we had to do.
We fought. We fought for ourselves and for our neighbours. We dug in and we dug deep, we found our strength and our resiliency. And we knew we would never, ever give up on each other or this community.
We never gave up on Bo; we will never forget him. I know that even though I never met Bo, he changed me and how he lived – and how this community fought for his chance to live – inspired me.
And I don’t think I am alone. I think Bo Cooper changed all of us, whether he ever intended to, whether he ever knew he would or had, whether he wanted to or not.
Bo was the best of us. And he brought out the best in us, showing us all how to fight and never give up.
Yesterday I was there when the plaque dedicating the fire hall in Anzac to Bo was revealed. It was a beautiful fall day; dozens of community members had gathered and eyes filled with tears as we collectively remembered and honoured this young man.
I wish things were different; I wish Bo were here with us today, with his parents and his wife and his friends and his firefighter family. But life doesn’t always grant our wishes; it is unpredictable and it is undoubtedly unfair. But sometimes in life we are part of an experience that changes us and that, like a stone dropped into a pond, ripples far beyond the original point of impact.
The best of us and the best in us; what a remarkable legacy. What Bo left behind is nothing short of a community forever changed; and forever better. We found our own strength, our courage, our determination and our fighting spirit through him and because of him.
Bo was the best of us; he brought out the best in us. And while I know he was likely grateful for the way this community came together to support him, it is we who should be grateful to him. He showed us who we were and who we could be; and as we fought beside him and with him we learned to be fighters. And while Bo may be gone, his spirit will always be with us, in a community that will never forget – and never, ever give up.