South Surrey senior Renee Nicholson wasn’t known for beating around the bush.
She could also never be described as someone who was content doing nothing.
The fact is, Nicholson did far more than many, and for far longer – but was always clear about her limits. She expressed those succinctly in a 2015 interview with Peace Arch News that followed word she had logged a record 8,000-plus hours as a community policing volunteer for White Rock RCMP.
“If I’m not happy, I’m not staying,” Nicholson said.
This week, those who knew Nicholson through her community policing, Rotary and sundry other efforts to help are remembering a “remarkable woman” and “selfless contributor to our community”; a woman with a quick wit and kind heart, who calmly advocated for others, and who had a passion for supporting the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS).
“We all face different challenges in life and Renee was an inspiration to anyone who thought their own situation was insurmountable,” retired White Rock RCMP staff sergeant Tom Forster told PAN Tuesday (Nov. 3).
“Renee faced a physical disability and accomplished more than most people not because she dwelt on herself, but received strength and determination by the feeling one gets from helping others.”
Nicholson died Oct. 29 at the Peace Arch Hospice.
“‘Remarkable’ barely scratches the surface of Renee’s character and capabilities,” Rotary Club of South Surrey president Patrick Hahn writes in a Facebook tribute.
“With all her skills, charm and ability to be direct when necessary (in a wonderfully positive way) Renee contributed greatly to our Club.”
Nicholson began her community policing volunteer ‘career’ at the White Rock detachment in September 2000, eight years after retiring from Telus. For more than 15 years, her dedication was unwavering – at times, she would log up to 12 hours in a day – with her involvement ranging from establishing the Mature Drivers program and patrolling the streets at night with other volunteers, to helping with the annual Red Serge fundraiser, assisting with fraud and drug awareness programs and looking after the city’s wandering-persons registry.
Her efforts were first cited by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General in 2003. At that time, she had contributed more than 1,100 hours to programs including Stolen Auto Recovery, Block Watch and Community on Patrol. She showed “an admirable level of commitment,” a news release issued at the time states.
Nicholson also devoted hours of her time and energy to the Kent Street Activity Centre, pitching in as treasurer for the bingo activity group and the thrice-monthly Fresh and Lively Friday luncheons. She was also the most keen volunteer when it came to help low-income seniors do their taxes in the spring.
“We had to hold back some taxes from her so there was enough to go to the other volunteers or she would have done them all herself!” White Rock’s community recreation co-ordinator Dianne Sawicki told PAN in a Nov. 5 email.
Sawicki described Nicholson as feisty, determined, fiercely independent and a straight shooter.
As well, she was “probably one of the hardest working volunteers we have had at the centre,” she continued.
After COVID closed the centre, Nicholson stepped up to help by making comfort calls to other seniors, and continued to do so even as her own health was failing, Sawicki said.
Up until three years ago, Nicholson was also heavily involved with the Rotary Club of South Surrey. Introduced to the club by Forster, she was named its president in 2015, and was inducted as a Paul Harris Fellow the same year. She was particularly proud to spearhead the club’s sponsorship of a canine assistance intervention dog and handler through PADS. The effort led the club to raise $15,000 for the cause.
PADS was Nicholson’s “great love,” Hahn notes.
“She glowed when she showed pictures of the dogs she had sponsored (and our Rotary Club of South Surrey’s funded ‘trauma dog’ for Sophie’s Place), especially the puppies.”
Sawicki noted that Nicholson had been looking forward to the arrival of a new PADS puppy that she had sponsored that was coming from Calgary.
In Nicholson’s 2015 interview with PAN, the senior described volunteering as “an honour.”
“I don’t look at it as being anything special. I did it because I could give back to the community,” she said.
She credited her penchant for helping others to the way she was raised.
“My family always believed in doing good for others,” she said. “I always learned to give, not to keep.”
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