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Newmarket family’s dedication to St. John Ambulance spans 4 generations

Angela Rotherham-Watkins is part of a tradition that began with her grandmother in the late 1950s, and continues with her daughter in 2021

Angela Rotherham-Watkins knows the value of volunteering.

As a third-generation volunteer with St. John Ambulance, an international first aid and emergency medical organization, she’s part of a tradition that began with her grandmother, Margaret Rotherham, in the late 1950s, and continues with her daughter, Vanessa Rotherham-Featherstone, in 2021.

Over the course of Rotherham-Watkins’ 36 years with the organization, the Newmarket resident spent countless hours teaching children live-saving first aid skills and providing first aid duty at public events. A member of St. John Ambulance from the age of eight, Rotherham-Watkins estimates her family has devoted “tens of thousands” of hours volunteering with the organization.

“St. John Ambulance has always been in my life,” said Rotherham-Watkins. “I volunteer because I love it, but also because it’s what I was taught. I give my credit to my parents.”

For Rotherham-Watkins, it really is all in the family. Her grandmother, mother, father, sister, brother, husband, and daughter have all volunteered with St. John Ambulance, a commitment that spans four generations in total. 

Her parents, Richard and Sandra Rotherham, even met while volunteering with the organization as youths, and found love, years later, while running separate divisions. 

The extended Rotherham family’s ties with St. John Ambulance spans two countries, beginning with Margaret in England and continuing in Canada when Richard and Sandra immigrated to Burlington, Ontario in 1977.

After several years running the Burlington Cadet youth division, Richard, Sandra, and their children moved to Newmarket, where Sandra founded Newmarket’s Cadet division in 1993. Richard became St. John Ambulance’s Ontario Provincial Commissioner, and later graduated to Canada’s Deputy National Commissioner.

Today, Rotherham-Watkins runs the Newmarket Cadet division, working alongside her husband, a medical first responder and public relations officer for the York Region branch, and daughter, a medical first responder and officer with the Cadets. 

Her parents, now retired, are Commanders in the Order of St. John — one of the organization’s highest honours.

“I love working with the kids,” said Rotherham-Watkins. “It’s something I get a lot of joy doing. I love teaching, and I love seeing them grow and learn skills that will last a lifetime.”

Recognized for 30 years of volunteer work alongside her father, who was recognized for 55 years, and her husband, Stephen Watkins, and daughter, Vanessa Rotherham-Featherstone, who were both recognized for 10, was “so special”, said Rotherham-Watkins. 

Seeing her family members recognized for their hard work and dedication at the November 2020 ceremony was the “best reward” possible for her.

“Vanessa grew up with St. John Ambulance, and she says to me all the time that she’s so proud to be a part of it,” said Rotherham-Watkins. “It really has become a second family to her. That was the way it was for me growing up, too. It’s a community where we’re always there for each other.”

In 2019 alone, St. John Ambulance York Region volunteers treated 304 patients at 205 different events; handled 172 therapy dogs during 5,863 visits to 427 different facilities, schools, and workplaces; inspected 204 child car seats at 13 different car seat safety clinics; and taught 242 children and youth volunteers participating in their Cadet program.

“The contributions and commitment of the family has been demonstrated through generations,” said Lynn McLarnon, executive director of St. John Ambulance York Region. “They’ve gone above and beyond as volunteers. Angela, Vanessa, and Stephen are very valuable and generous members, in many different ways.”

As for the personal benefits of volunteering?

“Leadership, confidence, compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, and kindness are all words that I attribute to St. John Ambulance,” said Rotherham-Watkins. “I believe in giving back so others can feel this, too.”