IN just two and a half years Ruairi Flanagan had a profound impact on the Port Macquarie community.
He was an unexpected addition to many families, and became a beacon of light shining on the lives of those around him.
Just as unexpectedly, at only 30 years old he would be taken away.
He leaves behind his mother Kathy, father Bill, brother Sean and sister Fiona in the United States.
But the memory of a young man with an infectious smile and an insatiable zest for life will live on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him.
“Ruairi could have been anything he wanted to be,” said his close cousin Phil Stone. “But he decided to help children with special needs – and that says something about a guy.”
“He just had everything you could want in a person.”
At school he excelled at sport. Clever, handsome and athletic, he had the world at his feet and made full use of his privileged position.
From winters spent snowboarding at Lake Tahoe, to travelling Europe in his twenties and later working with an autistic child in Dubai, Ruairi lived his life to the full.
Of all the places he had been, he found his dream home in Port Macquarie.
“He loved Port Macquarie,” Mr Stone said. “He told me this is it – he never wants to leave here.”
Ruairi was often described as child stuck in a grown man’s body.
His fun-loving personality, and innate ability to see the positives in any situation, drew people from all walks of life to him.
“Ruairi was extraordinary,” said Jenny Berger who, along with her husband Charles Hopley, sought out Ruari to become a therapist for their autistic son, Daniel.
“He had enormous inner strength and an infectious spirit that made the kids and adults around him feel happy.”
Ruairi was 28 and in Dubai when the Hopleys first interviewed him.
They first flew him to Manchester, and were so impressed with him they decided to bring him along to Port Macquarie in August 2010.
Here, his contagious laughter and outgoing personality weaved its magic - and he quickly formed a solid group of friends.
Lighthouse Beach locals would often see him running along the beach with his beloved dog, Cali.
Like Watonga Rocks and the Tacking Point Lighthouse – the inseparable pair would form part of the landscape.
Ruairi would become a brother to his mates, and many, like the Bergers, would accept him as a son.
Daniel Hopley would establish a very special relationship with Ruairi, as he lovingly cared for and nurtured him.
“He connected with and understood Daniel in a very special way,” Mrs Berger said.
“He gave of himself and put up with all the obstacles that autism poses with kindness and warmth. Nothing about Daniel ever embarrassed Ruairi. He was proud of Daniel and saw beyond his autism.”
Ruairi looked past differences, he embraced them and he did not judge.
His friends speak of his compassionate nature, so evident in the way he cared for Daniel and other children with disabilities.
Surfing and Ruairi fit together perfectly, and as soon as he stood on a board it would become an all-consuming passion.
“For the first year he learned to surf he was out there three times a day,” Corey Enfield, his employer at Soul Surfing, said.
He would become an excellent waterman, and an irreplaceable friend and surfing coach.
“The kids all loved him,” said Mr Enfield. “I’ve never come across anyone like him, the kids will be shattered. They are by far the biggest losers.”
The Lang family were Ruairi’s neighbours.
Like so many others, the loss of such a wonderful, passionate, healthy young man is difficult for them to comprehend.
Shelley Lang said people would often admire him in awe at their gym.
Ruairi would look nothing short of an acrobat, as he showed off a new skill or trick he had found on the internet.
“I don’t think when I met Ruairi I realised what a treasure he would turn out to be,” she said.
“He was so passionate and he loved the life he lived. He had the ability to make you see the beautiful things in life no matter what the circumstance – a quality that few people have.”
Ruairi has left a legacy of a young man who lived a life many of us could only dream to live.
“He loved life,” Mr Stone said. “He always thought he was on some kind of path – that every decision he made worked out for him.
“He was the kind of person who believed everything happened for a reason. He was positive until the end.”