A volunteer at the main information desk, Robbins, 85, has been greeting patients and visitors and helping them find their way around the hospital three days a week for the past 12 years.
Why did you become a UCLA volunteer?
Many years ago, I was on the board of directors of the Friar's Club in Beverly Hills, which is no longer around. Cyd Charisse (the actress and dancer) who was married to club member Tony Martin (the actor and singer) knew I had done hospital volunteer work in the past and suggested I sign up at UCLA. When I started, I had three volunteer jobs: the information desk,the recovery room and the surgical waiting area, where I was known as Mr. Bagel because I always brought in fresh bagels for the nurses. But now I just work at the information desk.
What do you like about volunteering?
I enjoy doing it. I know I'm helping the hospital and the people who come here. When you work at the information desk, you are the first person a patient or visitor sees. If you're smart, sharp and know what to say, that makes a good impression and gives people a good feeling about the hospital. And it's fun!
What's the hardest part of the job?
A lot of times people come here and they don't know where they're going or who their doctor is. Sometimes a person comes in and says "I'm here for an operation" but they don't really know anything else. So then I have to ask, "What kind of operation are you having?" If they know that, I can go on the computer and figure out where they're supposed to be and direct them to the right place. Once, a woman was walking back and forth trying to find her fiancé. It turned out she had spent 1½ hours on the bus to get here, but he was actually at Harbor UCLA in the South Bay. I sent her to Patient Affairs to help her out.
What kind of work did you do before you retired?
I've had many different jobs throughout my life. My father owned gas stations in New York so I worked with him for many years before going into the cosmetic business selling wholesale to beauty salons. I did that for about 10 years before a friend suggested I become a hairdresser. "You'll love it," he said. "You'll meet a lot of good-looking women." I ended up owning a couple of salons in Canoga Park and was a stylist for some runway shows. I did that for about 10 years before a friend suggested I go into real estate. I got my broker's license, which I still have, and started selling condo units for builders. I was living and working in Palm Desert selling real estate when I was in a car accident and I retired shortly after that.
What are your other hobbies or interests?
I play tennis three or four times a week. I'm also a big opera buff. Verdi is my favorite composer but I love all classical music and like to get season tickets to Disney Hall. At one time in my life, I was interested in going into musical theater. I'm a lyric baritone who attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston for about 10 years. If you haven't noticed, I do everything in my life in 10-year intervals.
What do you foresee for the next 10 years?
Even though my mother lived to the age of 104 and my father lived until he was 97, I don't take anything for granted. You really need to live every day as if it were your last. That's basically the story. You play tennis. You go home and take a shower. You do a little volunteer work. And then you go out and enjoy a show. Every day is another day.
To learn more about UCLA Health Volunteer Services, click here.