28 July 2017, Elsternwick, Melbourne, Australia
My first glimpse of Shelli Whitehurst was through a crowd of freeloaders at a restaurant launch here in Melbourne. Shelli was holding court with a huddle of listeners.
Melbourne’s queen of social media was in the house.
I was with the old-school journos on the other side of the room. Back then, there was always a line in the sand… bloggers and journos never mixed.
But I was drawn to Shelli like a moth to a flame – like all of you.
There was this energy about her. It almost fizzed over. And if she allowed you into her orbit, you got a big fat dose of that energy, and then some.
Even on her darkest days, Shelli impacted the world. She was like a magic pill for any problem in her path.
Shelli’s amazing surgeon Chantel Thornton nailed it with this comment:
“Sometimes people enter our lives that will change the way we think. Michelle Whitehurst was one of those women – a woman of integrity, enormous courage and incredible tenacity for life. I have been privileged to be a part of your medical team.”
I have to agree. It really was a privilege to know Shelli… to be one of her people.
She loved introducing us to each other, and making magic happen.
Just ask Jenny and Chris… introduced by Shelli and now engaged to be married over in Shelli’s spiritual home, the U.S of A. Or Marty and Adam – not a romantic coupling, but brought together by Shelli to open the ridiculously successful South Press in Toorak Rd.
And let’s not forget Shelli’s other magic superpower - problem solving. I’ve lost count of the number of times Shelli pulled my head out of arse in times of strife and gave me a plan. And I know I’m not alone.
Shelli’s wonderful cousin Brendan and his partner Dean won’t mind me telling you that Shelli pushed and shoved them into following their hearts to start a new business (For My Petz in Yarraville… if you have fur babies, it’s fabbo).
Shelli had a gift for making lists and getting shit done. I’m sure many of you have been bossed around by Shelli. She’s given me so much hell for faffing about. There were never any excuses. World domination or don’t bother.
Ask Kimberlee Wells, a friend from Shelli’s advertising days. She said:
“We had big dreams of world domination. Kept the walls coloured with post-it notes. Had the private jet on order. Drank only in large format. And laughed and loved for more than 20 years. Shelli’s kindness and impact had no boundaries. And now, nor does her spirit.”
There were similar sentiments from Shelli’s biggest hero, New York advertising guru Cindy Gallup, who sent me a message saying Shelli would be kicking ass in heaven as much as she kicked ass here.
Shelli lived large and played hard, with a charisma that demanded attention.
Shelli was fierce, and nobody’s fool. And she knew how to enjoy life.
Like when she went for a foot massage with her mate Teela in Atlanta. Shelli enjoyed it so much that she ordered her masseur to start over again. And she wasn’t joking.
Others tell of Shelli’s antics in sparkly Minnie Mouse ears at SXSW, or hitting New York in her Tiffany & Co Nikes in the robin egg blue colour she loved so much.
Melissa remembers a 6pm dinner date with Shelli at Di Stasio, only drawing breath at midnight when the waiters turned the lights out. Those men in white jackets had been politely polishing glasses for at least an hour before hitting the lights.
That was how Shelli rolled. Deep communication was her jam.
When she was planning a visit to her dear friend Tom Miale in New York a few years ago, she got the ball rolling by demanding he cook a fancy meal. It became a running joke. She’d say stuff like… "Tom, I won't be happy unless there is a parade of shirtless men constantly pouring me bubbles.” When it came time to choose a meal, Shelli chose a much simpler affair - steak.
This is how Tom tells the story:
“Shelli arrived at home with bearing gifts for all - toys for my two children and about $200 worth of gourmet cheese for my wife and I. She said ‘I couldn't choose, so I bought all the cheese at the shop’. After a simple meal with some good wine, and loads of cheese, I asked her why she chose something as simple as steak for dinner. "She said, ‘I'm tired of the fancy stuff. Tonight, I need a meat-and-potato meal with a family’. To me, that interaction was who Shelli was. She appreciated the good stuff, she was always the life of the party, she loved to jet-set around the world, she never turned down an invitation to a fancy restaurant, but at her core she was most happy having simple, intimate interactions with friends and family. I can honestly say that I don't know anyone else that had as many close friends and family all over the world.”
If Shelli called you a friend, she’d give and give and give. Then she’d give some more. She even turned her cancer diagnosis into an act of giving, helping countless others with the extraordinary Kit for Cancer.
And she gives hope with her clever catch cries – like that amazing line broken crayons still colour. Shelli’s communication skills were legendary.
And she was always coming up with big ideas, more recently at 2 or 3 in the morning while talking to a dozen of her insomniac mates at once on Messenger.
Her notebooks bulged with them, and some were on the cheeky side, like the phone app called “Plus One” she plotted with a certain top restaurateur about town… a portal to hook up single professionals with hot and suitably sophisticated plus-ones so they never have to turn up anywhere alone (and no, it wasn’t an escort agency, but if things got saucy, the customers were all grown ups).
Shelli’s latest project, Because We Can, was all about generosity, sharing cool stuff and celebrating joyfulness with her connections around the world.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful if Shelli’s global network continued disrupting shit on her behalf?
If you’re lucky enough to be one of Shelli’s people, it’s now your job to stay connected and dream big. And more importantly… don’t be scared to fail.
She gave this lesson to my teenage daughters Vivienne and Lauren, sneaking away for secret conversations on the importance of big dreams and open hearts. My girls loved her like an aunty, and have promised to make her proud.
On one of my many insomniac chats with Shelli on Messenger, she made me promise to make today’s send-off about her good bits – not dwelling on cancer.
Turns out, she asked the same of her friend Marty, who said:
“Shelli wanted me to make sure that we all didn’t remember her as a sick person, but as someone who was an entrepreneur, someone who was witty, someone who was successful and someone who was an incredible amount of fun. Shelli was every one of these before she was sick but more importantly she was all of these while she was sick.
"I don’t know of anyone else who would make their sickness into one of her projects, to ensure that no one would go through it like her.
"This in itself speaks of her courage and strength to always reach for the stars, knowing that when she got there it may benefit others more than her. This is why her legacy will live on.”
Beautiful words Marty.
Shelli will be all of those things and more, for those who knew her, and for a whole heap of people who didn’t.
To Betty and Don… I hope these words help you understand the sheer size of the huge tsunami of love out there for your beautiful daughter.
Finally, let me quote another one of Shelli’s US friends, Jeff Loya. I’ve followed Shelli’s wishes and avoided the dreaded C word for most of this eulogy, but I can’t resist this quote:
“She didn’t die from cancer. She bitch-slapped cancer so hard, it will think twice about entering another human”.