HEARTS OF THE COMMUNITY: Volunteer marches to his own tune

Robert, or Bob as he is known, turned 89 this month and shows no signs of stopping his volunteer work in the community.

Robert Harman is the Sergeant-at-Arms for the North Saanich branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. He has kept the Sidney Remembrance Day parade in step for many years.

Robert Harman lost his wife a few years ago, and the time he cared for her at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital’s extended care wards led to many more years of volunteering to help make people’s lives a bit better.

Robert, or Bob as he is known, turned 89 this month and shows no signs of stopping his volunteer work in the community. The long time member of the Royal Canadian Legion, who can be seen every November 11 leading the Remembrance Day parade down Beacon Avenue, actually started volunteering well before joining the Legion.

“I suppose it was around 1950 or ‘51 when my brother convinced me to go to the Red Cross to give blood,” he says. “I felt really good about that, really and truly.”

Harman says volunteering gives him a lot of satisfaction.

“I remember my wife Thelma’s battle with cancer in April of 2012. She spent time in the extended care and I would go up there to help out when I could. Now, I’ve been going there for eight years, visiting people, attending special events and, of course, going there on Remembrance Day to help with ceremonies.”

Harman adds the volunteer work “gives a fella an inner glow.”

Harman grew up on Vancouver Island and recalls his days as a messenger boy in Victoria. He was the third son in his family and attended school at Tolmie and Tillicum schools. He recalls spending summer months on the Gorge, when one could swim there all the time.

Harman joined the military during the Second World War, signing up with 8 Battery of the 5th Artillery Regiment in Victoria. He served two years and was not sent overseas. He then spent three more years with the unit after the war.

Harman would eventually train as a carpenter, taking night school courses while working at B.C. Forest Products. He then landed a job with the department of National Defence, working at the Pat Bay Aerodrome. He did that for 31 years.

He also joined the Legion and has been a member for 56 years.

“It really opened up my eyes to what the Legion is doing for veterans across the country,” he says, adding his goal over that time has remained the same: to help the community and local veterans, too.

Harman has served in almost every capacity with the Legion and has been its Sergeant-at-Arms during Remembrance Day parades for many of those years.

“You daren’t make a mistake or you hear about it.”

Harman says he wants to volunteer for as long as he’s able. In the meantime, he plans on taking one of his regular train trips across the country to see family in Ontario.