On April 30, in lieu of a ceremony, City of Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog hand-delivered the 2021 Culture and Heritage Awards to this year’s winners. The city also released online video profiles of the recipients. This is the third in a four-part series on this year’s award winners. To read Part 2, click here.
It was her love of music and appreciation for its value to adults and children that moved Christine Whitelaw to devote her time to supporting the Port Theatre, Vancouver Island Symphony and Nanaimo Conservatory of Music.
Now, after more than 20 years serving in multiple roles within those organizations, Whitelaw is being recognized for her service as recipient the City of Nanaimo’s Culture and Heritage Award for Honour in Culture. Whitelaw said she was “overwhelmed” when she heard the news.
“I didn’t expect such a thing and it’s a big honour,” she said.
Whitelaw first got involved with the Port Theatre shortly after retiring as director of nursing at NRGH in the mid-’90s. Whitelaw served on the board of the Port Theatre Society for the three years leading up to the theatre’s construction and the first two years of its operation.
During those years Whitelaw said she raised the most money singlehandedly out of any board member – $55,000 – mostly by selling seat sponsorships for $1,000 each. She said it was fun selling seats to friends, as she knew a lot of people from her association with NRGH.
“Since then of course we’ve attended the Port Theatre frequently,” Whitelaw said. “We’re big supporters of what they do. It’s a wonderful resource for the community.”
Whitelaw became involved with the VIS after finishing her first term on the board of the Port Theatre. She said she was asked to join the VIS board by Marianne Turley, who also received an Honour in Culture Award this year. Whitelaw said she and her husband are longtime VIS season ticket holders.
“We really appreciated not having to travel to Vancouver for our classical music fix, which we had done,” she said. “For years we were subscribers to the Vancouver Recital Society’s piano concert series.”
Whitelaw briefly sat on the VIS board before stepping down to turn her attention to what she called “organizational deficits.” She started visiting the VIS offices every week to help “sort things out,” and once things were sorted she stayed on for the next eight years. Thanks to her facility with Microsoft Excel, Whitelaw was soon maintaining donor spreadsheets.
“I felt I could really help them because I have a large cohort of friends and contacts so I knew I would do well with fundraising for them, but also my big skill is organization,” Whitelaw said. “When I was a teenager my friends referred to me as ‘the big organizer’ and I’m not so sure it was meant as a compliment.”
In 2011, Whitelaw began her involvement with the conservatory. For five years she chaired the concert planning committee and scored “a major coup” when she was able to present a concert by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt in 2017.
“We raised the profile of the conservatory,” Whitelaw said. “The audience we had for the Angela Hewitt concert was over 600 and that was amazing.”
Whitelaw is currently on the boards of the Port Theatre and conservatory and says she plans to stay involved with those groups “as long as I am able and as long as they think I can be of service.”
“I really couldn’t imagine not being involved with them because it’s so rewarding,” she said.