An interview with Carolyn Swinson, REALTOR® and “irreplaceable” volunteer

Our third annual Canadian REALTORS Care® Award was recently presented to Carolyn Swinson of Toronto in recognition of her outstanding volunteer work with MADD Canada. Carolyn became a volunteer shortly after losing her son, Rob, to an impaired driving crash in 1993. Since then she has served many volunteer roles with MADD, becoming an indispensable advocate for the anti-impaired driving movement and an invaluable friend to fellow victims of impaired driving along the way.

Earlier this year, I had the honour of spending some time with Carolyn. Here are some excerpts from our conversation. If you’re a REALTOR® interested in making an impact for a charity or cause close to your heart, be sure to read on!

How long have you been a REALTOR®?

Since 1984. Quite a few years now. I’ve certainly been in the business long enough to see the market go through many ups and downs.

What’s your favourite part about being a REALTOR®?

I enjoy being with people. For me, it’s very satisfying to get to know people and find them a house that they really like. I still keep in touch with some of my clients from my very first year in real estate!

How do you juggle your real estate career and your volunteer work?

I don’t think I could have done the volunteer work I’ve done with MADD while doing any other job because it requires flexibility. Usually I can do a lot of things first thing in the morning when not too much happens in real estate.

I try to keep my work in real estate and my volunteer work with MADD separate. No matter what I’m doing, if I’m working with clients, my clients always have to come first.

Has volunteering with MADD Canada helped you with your own grieving process?

I’m not the sort of person who can sit back and do nothing. If I see work that needs doing, I’m going to do something about it.

Over the years, I’ve shared my family’s story many times to try to prevent as many people as I can from drinking and driving. It’s still very difficult to talk about what happened. I lost my son 25 years ago. The pain is exactly the same now as it was then. But I think telling a personal story helps get the message through to people, more than statistics ever could. And it does have a certain catharsis to it.

What keeps you going as a volunteer?

The most rewarding thing has been providing support to other victims over the years. A lot of them have become like a second family to me.

Another thing that has kept me going is the fact that the person who killed our son, even though she had a blood alcohol of 200, she was acquitted due to a technicality, which for us was very difficult to understand. But currently there is a bill—Bill C-46—before the federal government that deals with drug-impaired driving but includes provisions for mandatory alcohol screening. That means anybody in a situation like the person who killed my son would be required to provide a breath test and there would be no question about it. So if we actually get mandatory alcohol screening, if it’s passed with Bill C-46, then I may think about stepping back some because that’s something that my family has wanted for the last 25 years.

What would you tell other REALTORS® who might be interested in getting involved in volunteer work?

I think there is so much satisfaction to be had through volunteering and giving back to a community. It just makes you feel good.

Congratulations to Carolyn and all of this year’s nominees. If you know a REALTOR® who is making a difference in their community and deserves recognition on a national level, please watch for the announcement of the nomination period for our 2019 award this September.

Sarah Thirnbeck, Associate Director, Strategic Impact, oversees CREA's national REALTORS Care® program, which aims to celebrate the amazing charitable achievements of REALTORS® across Canada and further foster a spirit of giving in our industry. She also oversees CREA's efforts to support local and provincial Young Professionals Networks across the country as well as new initiatives dedicated to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion on CREA's Board of Directors and committees. Sarah recently earned a Graduate Diploma in Social Responsibility and Sustainability from the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto to complement her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications.

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