Memorial Award Turns Tragedy into Something Positive

Photo courtesy of Sandy Roberson
Photo courtesy of Sandy Roberson

Olivia Sonja Robertson had a passion for giving back to the community. When she died tragically in an auto accident at the age of nineteen, her father decided to transform this tremendous loss into a story of hope.

Sandy Robertson banded together with friends and family and raised over $45,000 to endow a bursary established in Olivia’s name. His idea was to give financially challenged students a chance to discover their own passions and become agents of change.

“Olivia was my only child,” explains Sandy. “I was forty when she was born. She was very academically adept, athletic, and outgoing. She certainly enjoyed a good time and was really just a well rounded person.”

Born in Toronto, Olivia was drawn to all kinds of physical activities from an early age. It was the West Coast lifestyle that attracted Olivia to UBC, where she took up surfing and skating.

“She loved being with people,” says Sandy. “She loved being outside. She was known for her kind, caring, and outgoing nature and gave generously of her time when it came to helping others. She wanted to be a catalyst for positive change and intended to work at an NGO following graduation.”

As a Humanities Student in the Faculty of Arts, Olivia was quickly recognized for a mature world perspective that belied her youth. She was engaged in both the academic community and the greater community through volunteer work, which included efforts to support people in the downtown East Side and fundraising to build a primary school in Jamaica.

“Olivia really enjoyed attending UBC,” says Sandy. “It was a time when she was starting to define herself. Our hope is that recipients will emulate her passion for giving back to the community and recognize that they, too, have the potential to make a difference.”

Olivia’s memorial tribute will fund one or more bursaries of $1500 that will be available to undergraduate students in their second year of studies at the Faculty of Arts.

Although memorial awards are typically something people look at later in life, Sandy says that he couldn’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate his daughter’s life and create some good out of loss.

“She was just a fine young woman who died too young. The circumstances were tragic, but the broader context was she and her friends were on their way up to Whistler for skating, and that was emblematic of her life. She lived athletically. She lived outdoors. And she lived with friends.”