93-year-old Veronica Robinson says learning opportunities have kept her volunteering all these years
The Vancouver Aquarium and Ocean Wise are privileged to have many dedicated volunteers. But few are as dedicated as 93-year-old Veronica Robinson who has clocked more than 6,600 hours of volunteer service at the Vancouver Aquarium over the past of 40 years.
Veronica first walked through the doors of the Vancouver Aquarium in 1980 to attend an open house with her daughter and was immediately hooked. “I am a perennial learner” said Veronica in an interview with Ocean Wise’s Communications team. “I loved learning about marine biology, and I was meeting people who, like myself, wanted to know more about the ocean.”
Born in North Wales, Veronica grew up in London during World War Two and says she had little exposure to the sea, or opportunities for travel or educational enrichment as a young girl. “I knew nothing about the ocean as a child. We lived between school and air raid shelters.”
By the end of the war, Veronica was ready to see the world. At the age of just 24, Veronica packed a backpack and set off for Canada, a bold decision for a single young woman in 1951. She worked and traveled her way across Canada, including stops in Winnipeg and the Banff Springs Hotel, always intending to go home. But the day after she arrived in Vancouver, Veronica met the man who would become her husband. They went on to have seven children, and (much to the luck of the Vancouver Aquarium), she never left.
By 1980, her children were grown, and Veronica was looking for new projects. She immediately found kinship in the Vancouver Aquarium community, which at the time was headed by Dr. Murray Newman. “He was a lovely man” recalled Veronica. “All he wanted was for people to know what was in the ocean. To tell people about it. That was the theme of the Aquarium then.”
When asked to describe the Vancouver Aquarium in 1980, Veronica recalled: “Well it was much smaller but there was a lot going on. At that time there were the orcas, and they were just building the Amazon Gallery which was an opportunity for us to learn about all the different types of creatures that you get in the tropics”.
Today, volunteer training at Ocean Wise involves two half-days of orientation, online modules, self-directed reading, and on-the-job skill development. In 1980, Veronica recalled six weeks of very intense education, including a written test, for newly recruited Vancouver Aquarium volunteers. “Once I had completed the training, I was allowed to take the Kindergarteners and Grade Ones around the Aquarium. I had to do that for two years before I could move on.”
In her 40 years volunteering at the Vancouver Aquarium, Veronica has worked in many different areas including the Howe Sound program, Marine Mammals, the Wet Lab, the back office, and most recently Windows on Research where, among other things, Veronica speaks with visitors about Ocean Wise’s research in the area of textile microfibers making their way into the oceans via home laundry.
In the 2000s, Veronica recalled that the Vancouver Aquarium was starting to educate the public about the problem of ocean plastic, a very new concept at the time. “When we first started talking about plastic in the ocean, people’s eyes would glaze over. Today, it’s so different. People are so much better informed. They know what I’m talking about and we have long conversations about research.”
One of her most memorable days was March 9, 1983. That was the day Queen Elizabeth visited the Vancouver Aquarium for the official opening of the Amazon Gallery. “It was terribly exciting. There were all these people rushing around and we realized there was an enormous amount of security. The Queen came right by me, I didn’t realize how short she was!”
What has kept Veronica volunteering all these years? “I am learning all the time. And I’ve made the most marvelous friends.” But beyond that, Veronica has always been driven by the mission of the Vancouver Aquarium and more recently, the mission of Ocean Wise Conservation Association. “I’m concerned about the ocean. Very concerned. And I come back because I want to talk to people about it. I want them to understand why we are doing this work”.
In fact, at 93, Veronica says she’s having more fun now than ever before. “Every day I come to the Aquarium is a happy day. I’m looking forward to my next 40 years.”
Veronica said that when people ask her where they should volunteer, she always recommends the Vancouver Aquarium: “If you want something to do where you really feel useful, go to the Aquarium.”