Manitoba·First Person

Winnipeg advocate Anne Oake 'saved me, taught me, loved me,' says recovered addict

Anne Oake, who died on Sept. 6, was "an advocate for addiction treatment and a voice for those who cannot find theirs" says Jason Walmsley. "I am now here today, 37 months sober, in part because of her."

Jason Walmsley honours legacy of late addictions advocate: 'I am here today, sober, in part because of her'

Anne Oake, left, met Jason Walmsley during his recovery from meth addiction. 'She always saw the best in me,' Walmsley writes. (Submitted by Jason Walmsley)

This First Person column is the experience of Jason Walmsley, a Winnipeg writer and recovered addict. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see this FAQ.

I gave up. My outlook and hope for a future without drugs became lost among the countless bad decisions.

It was time for me to embrace the addicted life and all the promises that came with it.

Years in prison on the instalment plan. Meaningless relationships meant only to use one another, never knowing them, never caring — and then one day, death. The promise, the goal, the expectation.

Staring down the barrel of an eight-year prison sentence, a man tends to welcome things his better self would never even consider, let alone embrace.

This was my nightmare, my reality.

But then I met Anne Oake.

Anne came to me in prison. This woman whom I had never met, my first visitor, didn't see the bolted-down chairs surrounding her or the one-inch shatterproof glass that separated us. She only saw the person sitting behind it.

Anne was so much to so many — first and foremost, a dedicated mother and loving wife. But she was also an advocate for addiction treatment and a voice for those who cannot find theirs.

Or even for the ones who have.

We became friends then, and more so once the barrel had been pointed away from me and I was given another chance to do better, and be better. She always saw the best in me. 

Neither of us ever had anything figured out, other than our lunch order at Santa Lucia or the opinion we shared of the TV show You. But she would help me, and I would help her, in our own way, together.

This amazing woman showed up one day when I had given up and lost hope.- Jason Walmsley

I miss our talks, her laugh. The way I would pretend to "go to the bathroom" in order to pay for our lunch before she would insist on doing so. She always hated when I would do that.

I have trouble finding the words for what Anne meant to me. This amazing woman showed up one day when I had given up and lost hope for a better future, for any future worth having.

But she refused to accept this outcome and wouldn't let that happen, no matter the difficulties. I didn't even have a say in this. She was a beautifully stubborn woman.

I am now here today, 37 months sober, in part, because of her. Grateful and humbled to have known her.

'Anne represented the best in all of us'

On Sept. 6, 2021, we lost Anne.

Some days are harder than others, and others are impossible. That day was somewhere in between, says my sober and healthy self.

Anne was a woman who cannot be described properly through words, but rather the feelings she gave you — the ones she has now selflessly left behind with me.

Compassion. Kindness. Silliness. Laughter. Ridiculousness. Warmth. Friendship. Love. To name a few.

Anne Oake, front left, and Scott Oake, front right, are seen here in June 2020, at the provincial government's announcement of $3.5 million to support the capital construction costs of the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre, which is dedicated to their son. (City TV pool camera)

Listening to others speak at her funeral — in the gymnasium of the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre she dreamt into being — was difficult. The emotion behind each and every word spoken was felt in our very core.

River and Faye, Ron, Deb, Brenda, Kathy, Darcy. Those who were there know.

Every person in that room missed her. No one was the exception.

The number of people's lives she touched and made a meaningful difference in was unfathomable, something made clearer standing in a recovery centre her pain and subsequent actions helped create.

Words for her when it came to addiction were never enough. She had to do more.

Anne is an angel now, one I am blessed to have watching over me.- Jason Walmsley

Anne made these differences all over the country — the world even — especially right here at home, in my life and perhaps even in the life of someone you know.

Anne represented the best in all of us, of the goodness we are capable of even in the face of overwhelming grief and loss.

She saved me, taught me, loved me — and I loved her. There's the truth — I loved Anne.

She never gave up on me, and so I will never give up on myself.

Anne is an angel now, one I am blessed to have watching over me. I know she's proud of me and of what I'm doing every single day — even though sometimes that may not be much. It's sober and inching forward — that was always enough for her.

Looking back, wishing for things to be different — she wouldn't want that now, or ever.

So, no looking back.

The things I do now, from this day moving forward, are done in your memory, Anne; first and foremost for myself, but thinking of you while doing good things can only make them better.

It's not easy and I will miss you — but I got this. I do, after all, have my big boy pants on now.

Thank you for that, Anne.


Winnipeg-born Jason Walmsley, 32, has spent more than 18 years learning first-hand the desperation associated with the addicted life. He believes finding a solution to addiction must begin with addressing the root causes and offering long-term residential treatment, at little or no cost.