Ian “Snowy” Woodford, a painter and raconteur whose expatriate years in Phnom Penh, marked by his stewardship of the now-defunct Maxine’s bar, still elicit nostalgic memories from those who knew him, died on Friday in Sydney. He was 57. The death occurred during an operation for one of his multiple ailments.
Woodford, who took his moniker from the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales where he grew up, moved to the capital from Australia in 1993 to work on a dangerous assignment retrieving vehicles from Khmer Rouge strongholds for the United Nations.
He fell in love with Cambodia and stayed for almost 20 years, racking up a library of tales. In the early days, Snow – as everyone addressed him – worked any kind of job. Once, he was paid to watch TV, and drink beer, by a foreign government concerned about the content of news coverage in the country – a job he excelled in.
But most people remember his tenure as the proprietor of Maxine’s, which he opened in 2005. The bar sat precariously on the eastern bank of the Tonle Sap river in Chroy Changvar, constantly threatening to topple into the water with its uniquely slanted veranda.
Wendy Lucas, co-owner of The Lost Room restaurant and one of Snow’s many longtime Phnom Penh friends, recalled his universal popularity.
“He was basically an institution of Phnom Penh, and I don’t think I ever heard anyone say anything bad about him; everyone just loved the guy,” she said yesterday.
He named his bar after the person he loved the most, his now-teenage daughter Maxine.
He enjoyed music and painting, and cultivated an alluring style of rendering striking images from Cambodian folklore through a modified indigenous Australian dot-painting technique. These paintings, as well as Cambodian artefacts and photos that he collected, decorated Maxine’s.
For residents in Phnom Penh, Maxine’s became a place to escape to and watch the sunset while Snow regaled his customers with whatever musings he had to offer that day.
In 2002, Snow reached new heights of expatriate fame when he played a raving Australian lunatic in a brothel in Matt Dillon’s film City of Ghosts.
After being evicted from his bar in 2011 to make way for the Sokha hotel, he returned to Australia with his daughter.
But the bar lived on. A fan bought the wooden saloon and transported it to the banks of the Kampot river, where it stands today inside the Greenhouse resort.
Woodford is survived by his daughter.