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RNLI’s Dick gets a royal handshake

AN Ennis man has been presented with an award in London by the Duke of Kent in recognition of his long service to the RNLI. Dick Robinson, now living in Corrovorrin but originally from Valentia Island, received a gold badge from the lifesaving charity at their annual presentation of awards at the Barbican Theatre, London, last week.
The modest man said, “I’m very happy and I never thought I’d see the day but I didn’t look for it although I really appreciate it.”
Mr Robinson has been involved with fundraising for the lifeboats since he was a child in Valentia, noting, “My family were up to their ears in water all our lives.”
Some of his earliest memories are of collecting for the lifeboats with his father, who was superintendent on the island’s radio station, while his mother came from a Welsh seafaring family.
For 15 years, he was both a volunteer crew member and a fundraiser for Valentia RNLI and for a further six years he was vice-chairman for the Listowel fundraising branch. He moved to Ennis but continued fundraising and since 1984 he has been branch secretary and president.
“I first started fundraising in 1951 with my father and when I emigrated to Ireland from Valentia for work I couldn’t go to sea, so I got involved with the fundraising side and I’ve been at that ever since. Everything from shaking boxes, the Burren Ramble, selling wellies for May Day, any fundraising thing left, right and centre. You never stop being a lifeboat man, you just move further away from the water,” he said.
Speaking about the day in London, which he attended with his daugher Tina, he said, “It was one of those days you could only describe as a golden day.”
One of the main reasons Mr Robinson decided to go to London to collect his medal was to acknowledge the work of Michael Vlasto, operations director of the RNLI, who was presented with an honorary gold medal.
“He was the man that modernised the service and I wanted to stand up and give him a big bualadh bos,” he said.
He went on, “The council of the RNLI were there, all leaders of industry and finance and everyone was so down to earth. The ceremony was introduced by Admiral Boyce, who said he was humbled in the presence of fundraisers who have raised over 55 million in both the UK and Ireland. He said we could not have built boats without the money. I shook the Duke’s hand and he said he wanted to thank me for everything I have done for the RNLI.”
Despite the prestigious accolade, Mr Robinson is humble about his achievements. “When the boat is called in, you grab a life jacket and you go, it’s not about you, it’s about them. It’s the same with the fundraising. It’s not about Dick Robinson getting medals, it’s about when I wake this morning and tomorrow morning and the morning after I know that 28 people won’t die today because of the RNLI. I know they won’t die because someone like me shook a box or gave somebody an opportunity to subscribe and they won’t die. That’s the heads, legs and tail of the involvement; that people won’t die.”
He was particularly moved at the ceremony by the stories of some of the rescues that were carried out by RNLI volunteers, who received medals for their service to the charity.
“Seven people got awards for bravery. I’m in boats all my life but they showed vidoes of what those people did and it scared the living daylights out of me. The people were all safe, thank God and I just got up and clapped them. That was a big moment, to see these young people and they are all volunteers who didn’t have to be there. But they still went and they were definitely at serious personal risk.”
Over the years, he has been impressed with the generosity of so many people towards the valuable work of the lifeboats. “I have no idea how much I have raised in the years I have been doing this. Back in the 1960s, we would be lucky to get 25 quid in the whole day. I remember once in Listowel, a fairly elderly man who did not appear to be possessed with the wealth of the world and he took out one of those beautiful red 10 shilling notes out of his wallet and he went to put it in. I asked him are you sure and he said I’m very sure, them fellas saved me off Cornwall. Then, more recently, one of our members, Jennifer Ryan, held an event in Cork and when Joe Queally was leaving a room, one of the little kids came up to him and said he wanted to give his pocket money to the RNLI. Those are the kind of stories that make it worthwhile.”
He encouraged others to get involved with the work of the RNLI. “It’s a much bigger organisation than people think. They offer overseas aid all over the world, they have a rapid response unit, river rescue, they work on prevention and providing lifeguards and there is a college that trains people. That’s what makes the friendliness and the reception I got in London from the top of the organisation all the better.”
As well as being a supporter of the RNLI, Dick has been part of the Lifeboat Enthusiasts’ Society for 27 years. In 2011 he accomplished one of his main goals in life and published Valentia Lifeboats: a History, a book on his beloved Valentia Lifeboat.
commenting on the honour, Mary Creedon, RNLI Community fundraising manager, said, “Dick is extremely deserving of this honour. He has given many years of dedicated service to the RNLI in Kerry, Clare and much further afield through his work with the Lifeboat Enthusiasts. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the work of the charity and is a brilliant historian as well as fundraiser. He is always quick to acknowledge the work of others, so it is fitting that his contribution is now recognised.”
Two other local volunteers, Anne Marie Keane and John Kearney, will be awarded silver badges at the RNLI regional awards ceremony in Dublin next week.

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