Friends of Ryan Gillis, a vocal advocate against drug abuse from Sydney Mines, N.S., say it’s hard to say goodbye to a man who was finally getting his life on track.
Gillis died in a car crash in Alberta on Tuesday. He was 30.
He often spoke with community groups about his own personal battle with drugs.
At the age of 13 he started using drugs and by 17 he had dropped out of school. He told stories about how he became addicted to opiates and crack cocaine and was homeless for a while.
In October 2012 he quit drugs and started turning his life around. Afterwards, he began speaking publicly about his battle with drugs and the risks of drug abuse.
“It's never going to be easy because you have a young person that everyone was pushing for into finally doing good in their lives and doing better than we ever expected. And then he leaves us from away like that, it just doesn't seem fair,” said longtime friend Jason LeFrense.
'He firmly believed he fixed himself and he wanted to prove to everyone that he could help people.' - Jason LeFrense
“He was out to prove himself, like when you come from a small town like this and you're well known for all the negative things you've done, he was fixed. He fixed himself. He firmly believed he fixed himself and he wanted to prove to everyone that he could help people. He's the Ryan Gillis that we all thought he was originally.”
Alton MacKinnon said he became friends with Gillis just as he started speaking publicly about the problems he had with drugs.
He remembers a time when Gillis talked to children at a boxing club.
“He came to the club and he spoke to the kids and spoke from the heart. You could hear a pin drop in the room every kid listened to every word he said, just hung on every word. You know he talked about being yourself and not being afraid to cry and owning your emotions. It really had an impact on the kids,” he said.
Few details about the car crash have been made public.
It appears to have been a single vehicle accident.
Gillis was working in Alberta, but LeFrense said he had plans to move back East.