Delhi, Macao...Retiree travels globe to help restore heritage sites. HISTORIC PRESERVATION
New York — ROBERTSON COLLINS hasn't stopped since he retired from his Oregon lumber business four years ago. He began to devote full time as a volunteer to helping countries preserve their historical heritage. ``Retirement years are the best of all,'' he says enthusiastically, ``because you can give back so much of what you have learned.
``I know a lot about saving and restoring small towns. And that is the knowledge I'm now sharing in such far-flung places as Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Indonesia.''
Historic preservation has been a hobby with Mr. Collins since 1962 when he helped save his hometown of Jacksonville, Ore., from being bisected by a six-lane highway.
He went on to learn the ropes of restoring the town and its buildings, some of which date back to its 19th-century gold-mining days. Today the entire town is a colorful historic landmark and an authentic ``tourist experience.''
From then on, Collins became a prime worker in the American preservation movement.
No matter how busy he was as a businessman, he found time to travel all over America and Alaska, sharing his hometown preservation experience with other small towns that were struggling to save their heritage.
Collins worked at local and state preservation levels, eventually becoming a trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Then he went international with his interest.
Even before his retirement, Collins was invited by the Pacific Area Travel Association to help develop a curriculum on the basic principles and professional practices of heritage conservation. By then the organization had recognized the field as an attractive element of their many travel destinations. The school, for association members, was held for four successive years in Hawaii.
``As I saw my retirement coming,'' Collins recalls, ``I began to accept more and more responsibility within the travel industry as a volunteer.
``I soon discovered that my experience with small towns in America was very transferable to third-world countries that were just beginning to take inventories of their historic sites and trying to find tax methods to save them.''
Various countries needed to learn to balance their development with heritage conservation, says Collins. But they had neither the means nor the sophistication to deal with conservation that was too advanced, scholarly, or expensive.
To share his expertise, Collins joined many travel-industry task forces (teams of hotel experts, bus, and airport operators) as the ``heritage specialist'' to help people assess and protect the heritage they had.
In Cairns, Australia, Collins remembers, the people in that coastal town thought they had nothing of any historic value. Actually, they had a lot of heritage - an old railroad, a coffee plantation in the uplands, and interesting old Queensland houses built by settlers who had come a century earlier.
The town people had simply lived with it all and couldn't see its value to visitors. With guidance from Collins, however, they have now learned to show it all off with pride.
``I keep reminding people that they just can't fix up a pretty building or two. They have to tell a story,'' he says.
Likewise, he helped the people in Macao, the seaport off Hong Kong, develop a ``heritage tourist package'' that included old Portuguese buildings and churches - not just the gambling casinos.
Collins says he follows such projects through to completion, because the people in these various areas not only need his guidance and encouragement, but reassurance that what they are doing is correct, valid, and important.
``For third-world and Asian countries, tourism is now their chief source of hard currency,'' he explains.
``Many are poor countries, but they have a heritage - the old houses, schools, churches, villages, and streetscapes - that the rest of the world is interested in seeing.''
These sites ``must not be ignored nor just used up, but preserved and developed,'' he says.
``So I put heritage into financial terms that they can understand and accept. I help them build a profile of the kind of tourist they hope to attract, then show them how to sensibly develop that market in order to make their investment worthwhile.''
Collins is now chairman of the Cultural Tourism Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and is living in Singapore, where he has taken on a four-year commitment, involving traveling out around the world.
Recent assignments have taken him to New Zealand, Australia, Bangladesh, and India. He has taken part in preservation conferences all around the globe - including London, Berlin, and Naples, Italy.
``Robbie Collins personifies volunteerism for historic preservation,'' comments Terry Morton, chairman of the United States Committee of ICOMOS.
``He knows how to use all the knowledge and experience he has gained through his active participation in preservation organizations,'' Mr. Morton continues.
``And now he has turned his attention to the world, sharing American techniques and technology. Many people profit from his dynamism, energy, and enthusiasm.''
``Yes,'' Collins says, ``I am strictly a volunteer. But I have the satisfaction of doing something that is tremendously satisfying to me and that is helpful to many others.
``I feel very fortunate about my retirement. I used to have to take time from my business in order to follow this interest. Now I have the pleasure of devoting full time to my hobby. What I was before able to do only in bits and pieces, I am now able to do full scale.''
Collins says if he had any advice to give others, who are still working, but contemplating retirement, it would be to develop a useful hobby that could be actively pursued in the future.