A Timaru advocate for the elderly, who has been awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for service to the elderly, says he is “blown away” by the award.
Robyn Baldwin thought it was a scam when she was first notified of her inclusion in the New Year’s Honors list, claiming she accepted the award on behalf of the community and the people she had helped.
“It’s so very, very humiliating,” Baldwin said.
“At first I thought the email was a scam because it contained ‘confidential’ information. I had to print it out and reread it. I thought ‘that can’t be true’, I was blown away.
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Baldwin was appointed Secretary / Director of Timaru Senior Citizens in 1995 and retired 26 years later in March 2021.
“I accepted this honor on behalf of the entire community and the people I have helped.
“It has been a privilege to share some of their stories and help them move forward in life. For them, trusting me has been a privilege and an honor to do so.
She said when she started out in the organization there was an age-related stigma and some people referred to the members of the organization as The Three Ds – Dead-Beats, Derelicts and Dribblers.
“I thought ‘we have to change this’. I tried to fill a void in their life and be there for them.
By stepping out of her comfort zone and getting involved with many agencies, groups and organizations in the community and promoting the value of older people, she has gradually changed attitudes towards them.
Many issues of isolation, life alone, and changing technology have not changed, Baldwin said.
Often having no family to help, Baldwin arranged for friends to do odd jobs for the elderly.
“Some people I couldn’t help, which I’m sad about. They wanted help but would not take it.
She also established the organization as a first port of call for seniors who did not know where to access a particular service.
Two of Baldwin’s many highlights were taking around 35 older people on a bus vacation around the South Island and involving the community in a charity concert to celebrate the International Year of Older Persons in 1999.
“The artists performed for free, the council donated the cost of the Theater Royal and the community supported it. It’s amazing when everyone comes together.
Baldwin has been involved in many initiatives including coordinating a variety of support services such as gardening, nail trimming and driving.
It also organized the supply of rescue tubes to households to store medical information for use by emergency service personnel and smoke detectors through Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
She also created and ran the Timaru Cozy Homes Project, donating heaters to households in need. She created and chaired the Aoraki Positive Aged Forum and Active Retirement Expos in Timaru.
Born in Timaru, Baldwin worked as a shorthand writer for the Timaru Harbor Board after leaving Timaru College and went on to work in administration later for a motor vehicle company and a Smithfield meat factory.
It wasn’t until the age of 50, after getting married and having two children, that she applied for the post of Senior Citizen.
“I had been part of a theater group that entertained the senior citizens of Church St, and it was a wonderful, vibrant place.”
It had been a wonderful journey to listen to people’s woes and stories and try to help, Baldwin said.
“I try to treat people the way I would treat my own family.”
While Baldwin is retired, she is still active as Treasurer of Neighborhood Support and Victim Support, President of Multiple Sclerosis South Canterbury and Total Mobility Scheme, and is the program organizer for the Timaru Rotary Club.
“I still have a little more to give.”
She will receive her award in person from Governor General Dame Cindy Kiro in Auckland or Wellington likely in May 2022, according to Covid-19.