The Wollongong disability sector is remembering the late Dr Michael Ryan who recently died in Wagga Wagga after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease.
The former chairman of The Disability Trust who went on to senior advisory roles with the NSW Health Minister and Westmead is remembered as a champion and advocate for people with a disability.
In the early 80's Mrs May came in contact with him as a parent of a child with disabilities. She wanted appropriate services she knew her son Mark required and would enjoy but were not available.
"We needed an appropriate place for him to have assessments. If you were to sum Michael up, he was a wonderful advocate for people with disabilities and their families.
"He was an innovator who developed teams that were so important for me as a parent. We didn't have that before. He was a real breath of fresh air".
Mrs May recalled Dr Ryan got into a few arguments fighting for what he believed. He came to Wollongong in the early 80's as a medical officer and head of adult disability services. And when Judith Day retired as director of the region's disability services he was successful in gaining her position.
Glenda Pearce worked with Dr Ryan the entire time he was in Wollongong and took over his position when he moved to Sydney.
"He empowered carers, families and people with disabilities to have a belief that they had a right to live in and be included in their community. He was uncompromising in listening to the voice of people with disabilities and their families. He believed the most vulnerable needed the best support they could get and the best expertise".
Margaret Bowan said Dr Ryan was chairman and a member of the panel who interviewed her for the CEO's position at The Disability Trust in 1987.
"Right from the very early days here he had this interest not just in providing the best quality services though health, he also had that interest in advocacy for people with a disability. One of the big issues was the Richmond Report and the movement of people with significant disabilities out of the big institutions and back into community living.
"At the time it was very controversial. A lot of the families were very concerned that their son or daughter couldn't live in the community. But Michael really championed that and there has been a sea-change. People nowadays can see that the most appropriate place for people is being part of the community".
Dr Ryan made friends and enemies in the push for change and wasn't afraid to stand his ground.
"He was on the side of right when not everybody was convinced that de-institutionalisation was a good thing," Mrs Bowen said.
"It was controversial at the time and there was a lot of resistance to it. It was a very different time and Michael was really staunch. He was effectively working in a bureaucracy. He got off side with ministers, sometimes notoriously, but he was always coming from that position of absolute clarity about community inclusion and the rights of people with disabilities".
Ms Bowen described him as a great mentor. She said to this day The Disability Trust is not just a service provider "it is out there advocating for an inclusive world".
Dr Ryan, 72, died at Wendy Hucker Nursing Home in Wagga Wagga on August 31. Prior to coming to Wollongong he had worked in Wagga as a developmental pediatrician and was involved in the establishment of an early intervention program. He is survived by his wife Sue, childen and grandchildren.