Tony Embleton, 90, has a passion for volunteering
Every Wednesday morning, the quiet basement of St. Aiden’s United Church comes alive with activity. A group of older volunteers bustle about, getting The Friendly Octopus — St. Aiden’s thrift store — ready for its once-a-week day of business. Racks of donated clothing and tables of knickknacks, household goods and electronics are arranged; cash registers, set up.
Close to opening time, a tall man with a slight stoop and white-grey moustache steps outside to walk a sandwich board and balloons to the road. He then heads back inside to help his peers sort through new donations, decide what prices to sell everything at and test small appliances to see if they still work.
Meet Tony Embleton, one of the thrift store’s original volunteers. And you wouldn’t guess it to look at him, but on Feb. 13, Embleton turned 90.
Age simply cannot slow this man down. Even past this milestone birthday, Embleton’s keeping busy as ever. Along with volunteering at The Friendly Octopus, he is a member of St. Aiden’s ministry and personnel committee.
“I get my kicks and joys helping other people,” he says with a smile. “It’s a successful purpose.”
Indeed, helping his community is something that seems to come naturally to Embleton. The Victoria native started his life of public service after graduating from Vic High in 1940 when he enlisted in the Canadian infantry.
“It was necessary. We had a problem and I wanted to contribute,” he says.
Even though a bout of scarlet fever prevented him from travelling overseas with his platoon, Embleton continued his military career when he was selected for officers’ training. Once he received his commission, he spent the rest of the war in Canada training soldiers.
In 1946, Embleton attended UBC to study zoology and physics, plus courses to attain his teaching qualifications. There, he met his soon-to-be wife Nonie Carruthers, who was completing her Applied Science in Nursing degree.
After graduation, Embleton began looking for teaching work in towns across B.C. “I sent out a dozen resumes,” he recalls. Although the Embletons wished to live in Victoria, the only school that responded was in Prince George.
The move proved a good match for Embleton, however, who wanted to continue his life of public service. “Prince George at the time was a really wonderful, growing community,” he says. “I got to do many things I wouldn’t have been able to do in a more established community.”
When he moved his family to Kamloops to take a job as vice-principal, and later principal, of a local school, Embleton founded the Kamloops District Student Loan Association and served in the Active Army during the summer. He also explored and flagged a qualifying hike (now called the Embleton Mountain Recreational Trail) for the outdoors club.
When Embleton and his wife retired to Victoria in 1989, he began to volunteer in the environmental sector. This included joining the Victoria Natural History Society’s Parks and Conservation committee and being elected as the regional coordinator of the Federation of B.C. Naturalists Clubs. A roll Embleton is particularly proud of began in 1997, when he founded the VNHS’s Green Space Project.
“Looking back, I don’t know how I did it all,” he says with a laugh. Embleton does, however, say that choosing to give his time in areas he found interesting — a piece of advice he believes all volunteers should keep in mind — helped keep him motivated to carry on with his public service.
He also tributes his now late-wife for giving him endless support during all those busy years.
For Embleton, there never was a good excuse to get out of helping his community. Busy people, he says, are the perfect people for volunteering because they have proven to have the motivation and drive to get things done. “Besides,” he asks, “what is ‘free time’ anyway?”
Although he occasionally wonders if he should have spent more time with his wife and four children, Embleton does not regret anything he did or didn’t do. “My family hasn’t complained,” he says happily, and adds that he “would be a different person now” if he had done things differently.
“I am more than happy,” he says.
And Embleton seems more than happy to stay just the way he is and to keep volunteering for as long after his 90th birthday as he can. M