Obituary: Prague-based activist and writer Debra Shulkes dies

The long-time Prague resident built a successful career among professionals, filmmakers, and writers, who prized her as a peerless teacher and helpmate. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 01.11.2022 11:30:00 (updated on 02.11.2022) Reading time: 2 minutes

Longtime Prague resident Debra Shulkes died on Oct. 16, 2022, surrounded by loved ones in her Podskalí flat.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, on Nov. 11, 1975, she made her home in Prague for two decades. Debra built a successful career as an editor, researcher, and translator. Her clients, who included professionals, filmmakers, and writers, prized her as a peerless helpmate and teacher. They, too, mourn her passing.

Debra luxuriated in words and relished a good turn of phrase whether in songs, poems, books, essays, treatises, columns -- wherever she found it. A lover of black humor, she went home and read aloud great death scenes in literature after receiving a diagnosis of advanced, untreatable cancer in September.

With friends’ and relatives’ children, she could weave fantastical tales, make up silly games, and keep a good joke running.

With adults, she was an energetic, eclectic, and generous conversationalist. She had a slight build, a soft voice, and a self-effacing manner that probably led some to underestimate her at times, but what a mistake that would have been.

Debra had a spine of steel. From leaving Australia on her own, to spending a year in St. Petersburg, Russia, to making a life in Prague, even refusing to die in a hospital, she faced trials that would make others quail.

For a time, she worked with the European Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, which champions the human rights, and humanity, of people with psychiatric diagnoses. She had her own struggles and was determined that people who had endured dismissive, misguided, or even coercive treatment should direct their own care. Her friends and allies in that work grieve the loss of a gentle, loving, and goofy soul.

Photo via Disability Arts
Photo via Disability Arts

In her final weeks, friends and family flocked to her bedside, some flying around the globe to be with her. To those who knew her, Debra’s death leaves a void where her irreplaceable blend of sometimes weird but always penetrating insights, thoughtful gestures, and dark wit used to be.

She is survived by her mother, Golda Shulkes, and sister, Rachel Shulkes, in Australia; cousin Gail Sulkes in London; and countless friends in Europe, the United States, and Australia.

She was buried in Olšany Cemetery in Prague on Oct. 21, 2022.

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