Bob Whyte

This interview conducted by Yesmine Elloumi and Natalie Czuczman of The Lumen Series in partnership with Operation Friendship Senior’s Society.
Dec 20, 2018

We always like to start by asking people to talk about their happiest moment of their life

I guess there was a sense of aw when I was at Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda. I came to the falls and the animals were so enormous, the crocodiles were the biggest I’ve ever seen in my life, huge hippos and almost invisible flies that could get into your eyes and cause you blindness. But, that part of the Nile I saw my first hippo walking along the bottom of the Nile. When I first came to the Nile, after passing a sign saying, “Elephants have right of way on the road.” Now, no one is going to challenge an elephant but the signs were needed because there were elephants around.

How did you end up in Uganda?

I had left Canada on a trip for four months as a delegate to a conference in the near East and after that while I was over there I wanted to learn more about my own Western European culture so I decided to spend a year and three months in Europe, which I did. And then I felt I was not ready to come back to Canada yet but I didn’t know where to go — and the answer came in a dream! The dream was to go to Africa. And so I went to Marseille, France to take a maritime boat towards Reunion but the boat was full so I had to wait one month and I got a seat on the next boat, but then the military displaced me! And I’m glad they did because that boat sunk and a lot of people lost their lives! So I took the third boat and that took me all the way down to past Egypt and down past Djibouti and then to Tanganyika where I left the boat and visited there a while before going over to Zanzibar and then up to Kenya and then to Uganda and that’s how I got to Uganda!

What pushed you to go and leave for a year?

When I was young, growing up, even before going to school I had a sense of some kind of a path that I was following and being a little boy about four years old they said “What are you going to be when you grow up?”. It’s a common question. My answer was: “I’m going to the school that is after school.” I didn’t even know the word for university. So, I knew what path I was going to and then I was working in a farmer’s field in Saskatchewan and the farmer asked me, “What are you going to do when you finish school?” I was in grade 11. I said, “Well, I think that I’m going to university. I don’t know how but I I’m going to go to university.” And he said, “What are you going to take?” and I said, “I don’t know. Law, I guess?” And it came out of nowhere but that turned out I did well in four subjects: music, geology, and law, and one other subject and then when I was in grade 12 my English teacher was married to a lawyer and he took me into his office and he told me about all the good work he was doing for the Boy Scouts — and that caught my interest. So, I applied to go to university and I got enough scholarships so that I went year by year.

Did you go to the University of Alberta?

The first two years at the University of Alberta, then UBC, then two more years at the University of Alberta. I got a scholarship to go from university to another and then to go back. That’s what that scholarship was for, to go to a different university and get ideas and bring them back to the first university and the idea that I brought to save a lot of students money on books by having a book exchange. It was at UBC but not at U of A and I brought it back to U of A and it saved a lot of students a lot of money, I bet.

It still exists, we still have book exchanges!

That’s the one I’m talking about! I guess I’m the author for the Alberta one!

And then you worked as a lawyer?!

Yes, but don’t tell anybody because too many people will ask me for free legal advice and I’m not in practice right now! *Laughs*.

We also wanted to ask everyone about their experience at OFSS.

Well when I came back to Canada after leaving for a four month’s trip but coming back seven years later instead *laughs*. I didn’t know where to start and so I went to the Boyle Street Co-op and the lady there in charge of housing suggested I go to OFSS. So I came to speak to a housing officer and she took me to one place that I didn’t like because it was too dark but then took me to another place, which I liked! So, I moved into there and I so appreciated OFSS and their attitude to things that I wanted to help them and at that point in my life I was stronger than I am now so I did a lot of volunteering. I’ve been coming here for I think this is my 19th or 20th year. It’s because I feel that there is a lot of good value that this organization brings to our community and I’m willing to be a helper, an assistant to them in serving a lot of needy people. In particular, there are some people that are hard to house. They will deliberately let things run over because they feel it’s some way of expressing themselves in their great freedom although they’re destroying their own home. And yet, these people need help. They’re part of us and OFSS is willing to help them and because of that, I’m willing to help them.

Do you come here every day?

No. I try to come here Monday to Friday. I do not want to come here normally on Saturdays and Sundays. I meet a lot of people here, people that have become my friends. I like these people. I feel part of them. I want to help them. I feel this part of my life. Part of the reason why I am here in my life at this stage in my life is to be the help I can. It makes for a fulfilling life. I feel good about what I’m doing here.

Is there one thing that you like to do on the weekends?

A very harmless, tame thing. I like to read! How can you get more harmless than that?

 
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