If you’ve seen a 96-year-old man lugging a guitar or belting out a tune in Toronto hospitals, it was probably George Linton.
For the past three decades, the former journalist from Toronto has been volunteering his time to sing to patients and hospital staff in need of a pick-me-up. Last month, the Governor General awarded him the Sovereigns’ Medal for Volunteers to recognize his work.
“I hope that somehow it may encourage other people who do music to keep at it and realize, as I’m sure many musicians do, how much the music is enjoyed by people who may not get much happiness in their lives because of pain,” Linton told CBC News.
He says he first got his start with music when he was 10. He was inspired to learn the guitar by listening to songs on the radio, and would go on to learn the mandolin, banjo, violin and viola.
“I’ve written a few songs, but nothing too startling, I guess,” he said.
Linton, a former Globe and Mail reporter, started playing music for people in nursing homes and hospitals in his spare time with his late first wife, Peggy. Soon after he retired, it quickly became a full-time gig, says Blair McKay, Linton’s son-in-law.
“His schedule was so full that he could only find one day when he could come and visit his granddaughter, who was in the country for three weeks,” says McKay.
“That tells you how busy his schedule was… and he’s still playing and performing now.”
Linton says he mostly plays familiar country or folk tunes from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. He says the song that’s requested the most is You Are My Sunshine, but he’s known to try to play songs he doesn’t know, if audience members ask for them.
“George would ask somebody, ‘Oh, can you sing me a line of it?’ And from that he would try to pick up the melody or the tune he made,” said Susan Bertoldi, the operations leader of volunteer services at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto.
“Not only is he a wonderful musician, he has a very kind and gentle manner with people,” Bertoldi said.
“And on top of that, he has a pretty lively sense of humour, too.”
Both Bertoldi and McKay say it was gratifying to see someone like Linton get the recognition he deserves.
Linton himself says he hopes his award inspires others to use their talents and passions to spread joy.
“If you can find something you not only like doing, but other people are going to enjoy, why not keep at it if you can?”.
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