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In memory of Robert Ollason MBE, 1939 to 2016

08/12/2016 in RZSS

On 10 October this year the quiet giant of zoo education sadly died. Rob Ollason joined the staff of RZSS Edinburgh Zoo as only its second Education Officer in 1977. He brought to his work both deep thought and passion, developing a programme of education for young and old that received international acclaim.

As a member of the Senior Management Team, he promoted the work of his department and its development but also contributed to the wider development of the Society and the animal collections at Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park. He also sat as a member on the RZSS Education and Conservation Advisory Committee. Working with the Science Adviser, he contributed to the development of the Scottish Curriculum and had close links with the local authorities in and around Edinburgh. He was responsible for the arrangement of the winter programme of lectures and films for Members of the Society and also did a double act with the Director when the summer evening walks in the Zoo became so popular that two groups were necessary.

During his 26 years at RZSS, over one million people were engaged in a wide range of topics, from pre-infant groups to further education for adults, both in the education centre and the park. As the demand for school educational visits increased so did staff numbers, which were later boosted by over 100 volunteers, most of whom had direct engagement with the visitors to the Zoo. Other zoos in the UK were sceptical about our use of volunteers but Rob and his professional team more than proved that such concerns were totally unfounded and the highly successful volunteer programme continues to this day.

As the Zoo’s role in conservation and major changes in animal management took place, it was important that this was understood by the wider public and hundreds of lectures were delivered by Rob to many audiences over a wide range of central Scotland. Within the Zoo, his department was responsible for the interpretation that so enhanced the exhibits throughout the park and provided photographs for annual reports and other publications.

In 1978 Rob attended his first meeting of the recently formed International Zoo Educators Association held in Washington DC, where he delivered two papers on zoo education. Six years later, in 1984, RZSS hosted a very successful meeting of IZE and Rob and his department were mainly responsible for its success. Between 1992 and 1996 Rob was a popular President of IZE. Other trips overseas included his memorable safaris with members of RZSS to Africa, India and Nepal

Rob’s contribution to RZSS was immense with so many being touched by his work. Young people coming on schools programmes, collaboration with the Edinburgh Science Festival, teacher forums, Summer Schools: just some aspects of his work not already mentioned.

Thanks have been given to Rob by thousands of those that he informed, enthused and encouraged over the years. He also received formal recognition with the award of an MBE and, more recently, an Honorary Fellowship from the Society that he served with such remarkable distinction.

Prof. Roger Wheater OBE, RZSS board member and former CEO

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