Walter Robinson: Dedicated Zionist
What a pleasure to spend a few hours chatting with Walter Robinson, with his charming Irish brogue still so prevalent despite having left his homeland many long years ago.
I asked Walter to tell me about his involvement in the establishment of the Beth Protea, retirement home for ex-South Africans where he was recently (deservedly) appointed the first and only Hon. Life President of the home. Known as a 'stayer' in difficult circumstances, that description certainly fits the work that Walter did for so many years towards getting Beth Protea established. To get this recognition twenty years after retiring as an active member of the board is indeed a unique accolade. He sees it as a great honor.
When first approached, Walter unequivocally gave his support to creating such a home and offered his advice, but was determined not to become personally involved. At the first meeting, he stated, “Without land and without money there is no project.” Following an impassioned appeal, Walter agreed to chair the founding committee of Beth Protea to assist in getting the project off the ground.
“My forte was to get together a dedicated team,” Walter says. “First of all I got myself a right-hand man, Joel Katz, with whom I worked day in and day out, and we got together an excellent and committed group of people willing to work hard to establish this home.”
Eli Landau, who was then the enthusiastic new mayor of Herzliya, was approached about the possibility of providing land. He was inspired by the idea of building a new retirement home which would include residents of Herzliya, and supported the scheme enthusiastically. Land was ultimately found at a price.
But where would they get the money?
After many trips abroad made by Walter and Joel to generate funds, thanks to the amazing generosity of founding donors like Eric Samson, the dream became a reality.
Walter beams with delight when he recalls the early days of the home’s growth.
“It was all such fun. We met regularly. This bunch of very busy people always managed to be at all the committee meetings, often called at very short notice to keep the momentum for success going. We had a whiskey or two together when the going got tough, but we worked in a harmonious group determined to achieve success. And I know that is exactly what we did achieve.”
The doors opened with 90% occupancy – a phenomenal start. The impressive Donors’ Board at Beth Protea’s entrance honors the initial generous donors who enabled this dream to become a reality.He recalls with pleasure the opening day of Beth Protea, seeing residents pouring in to claim their places in this haven of secure and stimulating care among friends, near family.
”I was never conscious of doing anything special,” he says humbly.
Walter’s past spans five countries. He qualified at Trinity College, Dublin in civil engineering, and subsequently had the opportunity to work all over the world. From a beginning in Ireland to the Scottish Highlands for three years and then further afield in Pakistan working in the naval dockyards of Karachi, followed by many years in South Africa, In Paarl, in the Cape, Walter met a Cape Town lass called Fanny Joffe. They married in South Africa in 1956, and after a spell in Ireland and a trip through Europe, they settled in Cape Town where Walter joined the family engineering business. Their three children, Gary, Brendon and Rena, were born there and educated at the Jewish day school, where Walter was active on the board serving as vice-chairman and subsequently chairman for three years. He also served on the Vredehoek Synagogue committee. Fanny chaired Bnoth Zion in Cape Town, and their three children were all active members and leaders of the Habonim youth movement. It was in Cape Town that Walter’s reputation as a dedicated communal worker and Zionist was established.
Their daughter, Rena, was the first of the family to come on aliyah, followed by the rest of the family. Upon their arrival in Israel, the Robinsons settled in Herzliya and have been there for 32 years. Beth Protea is familiar ground for them, close to home.
Who better to be honored as Honorary Life President? Congratulations, Walter Robinson.