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Times Colonist

Victoria lawyer and children's advocate dies at 54

Lex Reynolds played key role in case of Sherry Charlie, a victim of abuse

Times Colonist, By Lindsay Kines, May 15, 2009

Lawyer Lex Reynolds dies after heart attack, at 54.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist, Times Colonist

Victoria lawyer Lex Reynolds, whose advocacy on behalf of vulnerable children led to improved oversight of B.C.'s child welfare system, has died.

He was 54.

Lex Reynolds  Victoria
Lawyer Lex Reynolds dies after heart attack, at 54

Reynolds suffered a heart attack last Saturday while on a golf outing with his 21-year-old son, Tai. Friends and family say that he died in his son's arms.

Reynolds devoted much of his adult life to helping children and families, volunteering hundreds of hours to agencies such as the Adoption Council of Canada. He also helped establish the Victoria Foundation's B.C. Adoption and Permanency Endowment Fund to assist children and youth in care or at risk of coming into care.

But Reynolds is probably best known for representing Harvey and Rose Charlie, who demanded the child welfare system be held to account for the death of their 19-month-old granddaughter, Sherry Charlie, in Port Alberni in 2002.

The little girl was beaten to death after being placed in the care of her great aunt under a kith-and-kin arrangement. The aunt's spouse, who had a history of violence, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a 10-year prison sentence.

Reynolds played a central role at the coroner's inquest in 2006, drawing jurors' attention to the weakened oversight of B.C.'s child-protection system. The jury responded by recommending that the provincial government restore the disbanded children's commission.

Former judge Ted Hughes made a similar recommendation in a subsequent report that led to the appointment of representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. Her independent office now oversees the system and reviews the deaths of children in care.

Shelly Johnson, former chief executive officer of Surrounded by Cedar child welfare agency, praised Reynolds' commitment to social justice and his efforts on behalf of aboriginal people.

"Lex was my best friend and taught me what an advocate and true advocacy really looks like," said Johnson, now an assistant professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. "He had a firm belief in a better day for us all and always spoke about the many 'kind and decent' people in his life, yet that description was most apt of him.

"I always thought that the Creator must love Lex very much because of all the things he was able to do on behalf of people in such a short time. I'm going to miss him for the rest of my life."

Victoria lawyer Mary Mouat, who was often Reynolds' adversary in court, described him as a "passionate advocate" for his clients.

"He could be relentless and admirable in what he perceived as their rights," she said. "Lex could get me crazy, he could make me laugh, he sometimes made me do my best work, and it wasn't until this week I realized he could make me cry."

Eric Jones, a long-time friend, said as committed as Reynolds was to his work, it came second to his wife, Valerie, and son, Tai, who is now on a golf scholarship at Southern Utah University.

"He was a man very devoted to his own child," Jones said. "He spent so much time on the golf course with Tai and he took time off from work. So, I mean, he had his priorities in the right place in terms of his own child versus getting wealthier."

In a Father's Day interview with the Times Colonist in 1996, Reynolds said that becoming a dad had enriched his life. "He's taught me how precious, how valuable life is," Reynolds said.

A celebration of that life is set for tomorrow from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, 231 Regina Ave. Donations can be made to the Lex Reynolds Adoption and Permanency Endowment Fund at the Victoria Foundation.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist