Community Issues

Liberal arts student, 66, has a new lease on life

Sue Robinson has taken a number of liberal arts courses at SFU Continuing Studies. Photo by Greg Ehlers.
September 23, 2013

By Amy Robertson

Sue Robinson does absolutely nothing halfway.

During her 42-year teaching career, Robinson was so dedicated to her work with special-education students that she often worked 16-hour days—after a full day at school, she’d spend a few hours working at home.

When illness forced her into retirement in 2010, she couldn’t imagine simply staying home and being inactive. Within months, she discovered SFU Continuing Studies' Liberal Arts and Adults 55+ Programs, and was hooked after her first course.

Delighted at the opportunity to finally be able to study what she wanted after decades of learning what her students needed her to learn, Robinson chose a little of everything: fashion, archaeology, technology, social change, science, music and more. She once took a course on dinosaurs and found herself surrounded by scientists, chemists and doctors—and was fascinated.

She’s not sure what drives her passion for wanting to know more—perhaps her parents, she says, who were avid readers.

“No matter what it is, I’m interested,” she says. “I guess I’ve always been like that.”

Laughing, she admits that she often needs to force herself to close her book and go to bed around midnight. “I’m afraid I’ll miss something!”

Student rediscovers an old passion

In addition to new discoveries about herself and the world, Robinson has rediscovered an old passion: jazz piano.

Her father and grandfather sang, there was always sheet music in the house, and she took piano lessons through her childhood. In university, she did a music radio show, but later on, “life got in the way,” she says. Everything changed when she took her first course with Neil Ritchie, an SFU Continuing Studies music history instructor.

“I didn’t realize that piano was still my thing—that I still loved it—until his class,” she says.

Robinson’s smile widens as she talks about wanting to just close her eyes and listen as Ritchie played recordings by artists whose careers date back to the ’30s and ’40s.

“I was enamoured and astonished and just awed,” she says.

She’s since taken three other classes with Ritchie, and hopes to take more. At his suggestion, Robinson has begun to frequent a music store that specializes in vintage music, building an impressive collection of CDs by musicians she’s learned about in class. She attends jazz and other music events, and she’s planning to purchase a digital piano to add to her art studio at home.

SFU courses lead woman to other continents

SFU courses have led to many other explorations for Robinson: She has travelled to Mexico to look at Mayan ruins, visited a synagogue in Curaçao to see a Torah from ad 1320, become a community activist, taken up photography, enjoyed a book on physics (a subject she hated in high school), and more.

“I guess I just always want to see and hear,” she says. “SFU just opened me back up to all sorts of things.”

Related story: Instructor shares lifelong love of jazz with liberal arts students.