ROBYN COOK, OAM
ADVOCATE FOR DISABLED ATHLETES
12-4-1941 - 29-10-2013
Intellectually disabled people across Australia have lost one of their greatest advocates in their bid to access sporting opportunities. Robyn Cook, an inaugural member and one of Special Olympics' greatest supporters, has lost her fight with cancer and pneumonia.
Robyn was a true ambassador for Special Olympics, supporting local, state, national and international sporting events. These programs have transformed the lives of hundreds of athletes from Victoria and across Australia.
At her recent funeral, more than 300 friends and representatives from the community gathered to celebrate Robyn's life. Robyn believed that all people with an intellectual disability deserved opportunities to participate in sport, from friendly training sessions through to the highest levels of competition, together with the social interaction it provided, giving athletes the confidence they required.
"Let me win. If I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt" forms the Special Olympics oath given by an athlete at all significant Special Olympics Games and events. These words were chosen by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics in 1968, now a worldwide sporting organisation for athletes with an intellectual disability, with more than 4.2 million athletes registered.
At a service of thanksgiving, one of her many friends, Kath Curtain, paid tribute to Robyn on behalf of Special Olympics athletes and their families in regard to Robyn's influence on their lives, saying: "The words of the oath were embraced by Robyn as she displayed great bravery over the past months, yet bravery was only one of the attributes of this truly exceptional Australian woman.
"Robyn had rare empathy with the families of Special Olympics athletes. Many athletes are challenging, loving, but require permanent assistance. Their continual struggle was never minimised by Robyn. She saw each person as a person of worth, with limitless potential. She also acknowledged the enormous input families and others as volunteers made in supporting the programs offered by Special Olympics.
"At a recent regional Special Olympics event, after the national anthem and the reciting of the oath, a tribute to Robyn was held, noting all her accomplishments with Special Olympics Victoria, Australia and international events. A minute's silence was held, such was the admiration with which this woman was held. Families and athletes all owe much gratitude to Robyn for making sure athletes with an intellectual disability are given exposure to a wide range of opportunities through sport."
Robyn grew up in Sydney, and was educated at Bexley Ladies College, then MLC Burwood from 1952. She commenced tertiary education at the Australian College of Physical Education, NSW, returning to MLC to teach, until the birth of her first child, Joanne, followed by Catherine and Andrew.
After moving to Melbourne in 1976, Robyn undertook voluntary work at Kew Cottages, then was employed to implement a physical education program for residents with special needs. Kew Cottages then formed the first Australian Special Olympics committee, which Robyn joined, remaining active on many regional, state and national committees until her recent retirement. Within Special Olympics, Robyn implemented a gymnastic program, tennis and, latterly, a bocce program for the Melbourne inner-eastern region.
Robyn never sought reward; assisting those with a disability brought her great satisfaction. However, recognition for her service was forthcoming and included being selected by Special Olympics Australia to take two athletes to the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988; she was Australia's gymnastics coach at the Special Olympics World Games in Minneapolis in 1991; in 1992 was named a life member of Special Olympics Victoria; was awarded the Australian Sports Medal in 2000, and a Medal of the Order of Australia for services to Special Olympics and her work with the disabled in 2001; in 2010 was inducted into the Australia College of Physical Education Hall of Fame; and in 2011 was inducted into the Special Olympics Australia Hall of Fame.
Under Robyn's tuition and encouragement, Kathy Corcoran, a Kew Cottage resident, won a gold medal for gymnastics at the World Games in 1991.
Robyn also secured acceptance by the YMCA to integrate those with a disability into its programs.
Special Olympics became Robyn's principal interest, but never to the detriment of her family or home. Robyn's other interests included Ionians, a Mahjong group, book club with longstanding friends, and latterly her involvement with the Order of Australia Association eastern region committee.
Closest to her heart has been her family, especially her four grandchildren - Madeleine, Angus, Caitlin and Robert.
Robyn experienced many personal challenges and health setbacks. Cancer, detected in 2005, returned in 2011. In October, viral pneumonia finally proved too great a challenge.
Robyn wrote mid-year: "Special Olympics has been so gratifying. May Special Olympics continue to grow and prosper." She is to be celebrated for setting such a high example as a volunteer, mentor and coach. Her quiet, gentle, caring and patient manner, plus her dedication, passion and unselfishness, will be sadly missed by so many.
Robyn is survived by her husband, David, their three children and four grandchildren.
Australia is hosting the first Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games, in Newcastle, ending today. Robyn would have been so proud of this important event, and the community's acknowledgement of the rights and needs of those with an intellectual disability.