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Rob Nolan knows a thing or two about how St. John’s works.
Nolan just finished his term as chair of Happy City St. John’s, a local non-profit organization that aims to get people talking about what’s important to those living in the capital city.
Always with an eye to urban design, Nolan sits down to talk family vacations, his favourite prime minister and drag queens.
1.What is your full name?
Robert Michael Nolan.
2. Where and when were you born?
At the Grace Hospital in St. John’s in 1987.
3. Where do you live today?
On New Cove Road, in a neighbourhood that we’re very excited to be in. It’s been built up recently with a Jumping Bean and a Piatto. We like to call it Midtown.
4. What is your favorite place in the world?
Middle Gull Pond, a cabin community about 35 minutes outside of St. John’s. We have a family cabin that was built by my folks just before I was born. There’s a lot of nostalgia there. My wife, Laura Barron, and I enjoy getting out there as much as possible.
5. Who do you follow on social media?
I follow mostly reporters and journalists and, I would say urban thinkers, and political scientists. Especially with my involvement in Happy City St. John’s, I like to follow people from around Canada and North America and around the world who are giving thought to how to improve our cities. And dog memes.
6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
That I play banjo. Scruggs is a big one. I’m also a big fan of contemporary bluegrass, so Punch Brothers. Also called newgrass, which is funny.
7. What was your favourite year, and why?
It would be 2017. I got married that year, I also managed a municipal campaign (Ian Froude’s) that year, which was successful. And I became chair of Happy City St. John’s that year. It’s been very fulfilling.
8. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
Maybe all three of those? Becoming chair of Happy City St. John’s. Being involved in the organization before that and being able to be that involved in the community has been really rewarding. Especially being a leader amongst that group of energetic volunteers has been an incredibly rewarding experience. The friends and the network I’ve built through that over the last few years has been a great experience. I would encourage anyone else who has the opportunity to get involved with a non-profit board, to get into a leadership role or just spend some time with a local community group.
9. What would you describe as your greatest indulgence?
Gummi bears or jelly beans, for sure.
10. What is your favourite movie or book?
My favourite book that’s been turned into a movie is "Children of Men." It was a book by E.D. James, came out in the early ’90s. Moderately apocalyptic, I guess. Dystopian future would be the genre, without being too dark or hopeless. In 2008 it was adapted into a movie with Clive Owen and I can rewatch that movie all the time.
11. How do you like to relax?
I like to kick back and watch a good Marvel movie, or "RuPaul’s Drag Race" with my wife. (Favourite drag queen: Sasha Velour or Monique Hart).
12. What are you reading or watching right now?
I’m reading a book called "Being Prime Minister" by J.D.M. Stewart. It’s about commonalities and differences between prime ministers over the years. J.D.M. Stewart is, I believe, a high school history teacher and he decided to write the book because of gaps that he saw in the Canadian history curriculum. And he wanted to make prime ministers more relatable, so it talks about everything from the business hours that different prime ministers took and how they set up boundaries in their day, to what they ate during their prime ministership. Even to how they got around — Wilfred Laurier used public transit, for example.
13. What is your greatest fear?
Phobia-wise, I’m afraid of heights. I think, like many people, a great fear of mine is early death. Dying before I feel as though I’ve done everything I want to.
14. How would you describe your personal fashion?
I think other people would describe it as layered. I like to wear dress shirts with sweaters and blazers over them. My wife calls me an Autumn Beauty.
15. What is your most treasured possession?
I have a Martin D-28 guitar, which is the same acoustic guitar that Neil Young played and plays. He’s a favourite of mine. I don’t play as much as I would like to, though I think everyone feels that way about their hobby. It brings great peace.
16. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
I have to say that my mother has instilled compassion in me. That’s something that I try to follow in the footsteps of. She’s a very loving and caring person. That’s a characteristic that I’d like to say that I’ve adopted.
17. Can you name three people who you would like to throw a dinner party for?
Gloria Steinem would be a very interesting one. Neil Young would be incredible, to hear about his life and the decisions he’s made over time. And, I think, Pierre Eliot Trudeau, would be a great dinner guest. How Canadian culture has changed over the last 50 years would be an interesting conversation at that table.
18. What is your best quality?
I hope one of my best qualities is the ability to facilitate conversations and bring people together, especially in terms of my work with Happy City. I’ve attempted to hone my skill and those qualities over the past few years.
19. Worst quality?
One of my worst qualities is perhaps my lack of attention to detail. I tend to focus on big picture, for better or worse.
20. What do you see as the biggest challenge for the province?
The population crisis that we’re experiencing, the decline in population and the demographic crisis. I’m a proponent of regional solutions, not necessarily regional government or amalgamation, but looking at things regionally. When we’re looking at the Northeast Avalon and the communities in there, how do we preserve those communities? How do we preserve the communities on the Northern Peninsula, when we see such a decline in population? Thinking regionally is a real solution there.