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Oak Bay parks and rec boss ready to say g’day

Lorna Curtis has served in many jobs over the years
Lorna Curtis stands in the state-of-the-art fitness facility at the Oak Bay Rec Centre. Curtis is retiring in November after 31 years with Oak Bay's parks and recreation department

A lot has changed in 31 years and Lorna Curtis has been here through it all.

“When I first came here there was just a few weights and some equipment on the pool deck,” she said Friday, while surveying the fitness centre at the Oak Bay Recreation Centre. “Now we have this beautiful facility that’s always busy.”

The workout room is just one of many infrastructure upgrades completed during Curtis’ time with Oak Bay’s parks and recreation department, a career that comes to an end when she retires in November.

“The biggest thing has been the technological changes and the computerization of everything,” she said. “We do 40,000 (program) registrations a year and it’s all computerized.”

But the changes aren’t merely physical. Curtis has seen a fundamental shift in the role that fitness and well-being play in the average person’s life.

“Fitness wasn’t a part of the community’s everyday life. It is now. It’s become part of our schedule,” she said.

And people of all ages are now taking advantage of a wide range of opportunities for self-improvement. Nowhere is that more apparent than at the Monterey Recreation Centre, where Curtis has witnessed a dramatic change in the attitudes of some of Oak Bay’s older residents.

“They’re much more active. People want to take courses, not just join a club or do certain activities. They want to learn Spanish and take cooking classes, learn computers.”

Curtis has held what seems like every job in the department in the past 31 years.

After leaving a finance job with the City of Victoria in 1980, she became an accounts clerk with Oak Bay parks and rec.

Stints as a receptionist, lounge supervisor, manager of administrative services – even a part-time gig as a bartender in the lounge – led to her eventual appointment as the department’s director in 2000. She held the position for three years before stepping aside, only to re-take the job in 2009. Curtis has spent a total of about five years in the top job, reporting to the district’s parks and recreation commission and municipal council.

It’ll be a bittersweet goodbye for Coun. Hazel Braithwaite, who is the commission’s council representative.

“I’m very sad, because I don’t think we’re going to find someone like her who is so dedicated to the municipality,” she said. “She eats and breathes Oak Bay.”

Braithwaite cited Oak Bay’s part in the Olympic torch relay and the Neighbourhood Learning Centre project for the new Oak Bay High as examples of Curtis’ passion.

“You can give her one piece of an idea and she’ll just run with it and come up with something fabulous.”

Curtis looks forward to doing a lot of travelling in the months following her retirement, starting with a trip to Australia planned for late December.

“One of the things on my bucket list is to be on the Sydney Harbour Bridge for New Year’s,” she said.

Curtis will leave some pretty big shoes to fill, but her advice for her successor – the posting for the director’s position closes Friday (July 29) – is simple.

“The best part of my job hasn’t been what I’ve done in the nine-to-five part of the day,” she said, “it’s been the opportunities to get to know people in the community and the kind of opportunities those relationships have led to for the department.

“You only get out of it what you put into it.”