'The best job': CBC North producer Marilyn Robak retires after 35-year career

Marilyn Robak says that reporting is "honestly, the best job" — and that many in her line of work would agree.

"You can ask anybody anything," said the CBC North senior producer based in Yellowknife. "It allows your curiosity free rein."

On Friday, Robak retired from that job, after 35 years in journalism, 15 of which were spent serving audiences in the North.

Robak's career began in Winnipeg in 1984, and took her to Toronto, where she presented CBC's national hourly newscasts. She freelanced in South Korea, Indonesia and Ukraine before moving to the Northwest Territories in 2005. 

Amplifying muted voices

Robak started CBC North's annual friendship breakfast in Yellowknife, where residents are invited to break bread with the city's homeless population.

For the last five years, Robak has focused her attention on CBC's reconciliation efforts. Last month, she hosted a panel discussion — in her own living room — on how to keep Indigenous women and girls safe, a topic that drew upon findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. 

The idea, said Robak, was to help people understand how "lives can be really wasted if people don't heal, or if people aren't safe and they're afraid."

"Women are still going missing and are murdered, and they're still dealing with violence," she said. "So that fight is not over."

submitted by Marilyn Robak

Throughout her career, Robak strove to report on people who were neglected or mistreated. 

"To give them voice means everything to me," she said. "It's the core of what I do in terms of seeking justice for people that have been unjustly treated."

Growing up, said Robak, the true history and ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada weren't apparent to many people in Canada. She has since learned, and is still learning, what is really happening in communities.

"That's still a journey for me in terms of learning about what we can do to try and bring about reconciliation, if we want to use that word," she said.

"I just think that there's so much potential out there in people, and until we fix things, that potential can't be can't be realized."

From threats to tear gas

Working overseas, Robak met some of the threats journalists face in their efforts to inform the public. 

In Indonesia, officials tried to jail her for asking too many questions. In South Korea, she "ate a lot of tear gas" while reporting during a period of great political change. 

Her experiences also altered her perspective on North American values.

In Korea, she said, people looked at her strangely when she tried to tip a server.  

"They said, 'Why would you tip a waiter and not your teacher? You're trusting your kids with with your teacher. Where are your priorities?'" 

She said questions like these made her reflect on Canadian norms, on materialism, and on how we choose to spend our time and energy. It taught her to lead a more intentional life, and she's happier for it, she said.

"I can believe in more of what I do."

Submitted by Marilyn Robak

'I'm very proud of them'

At CBC North, Robak has watched new and hungry young reporters grow into diligent and watchful journalists. 

"There's been so many young reporters that have come through here, and when I see their byline I'm very proud of them."

Though Robak is vacating her seat at the assignment desk, she isn't necessarily done with her craft. She plans to get some sunshine — and do some writing — in Costa Rica, and think about her next moves. 

"Most importantly," she said, "[I'll] do some reflecting on what my passions are and how I can feed those passions with action."