If you’ve seen a 96-year-old man lugging a guitar or singing a tune in Toronto hospitals, it was probably George Linton.
For the past three decades, the former Toronto journalist has volunteered his time to sing to patients and hospital staff in need of a pick-me-up. Last month, the Governor General presented him with the Sovereigns Medal for Volunteers in recognition of his work.
“I hope that somehow this will encourage other people who make music to persevere and realize, as I’m sure many musicians do, how important music is. is enjoyed by people who maybe don’t get a lot of happiness in their lives because of pain,” Linton told CBC News.
He says he got his start in music when he was 10 years old. He was inspired to learn guitar by listening to songs on the radio, and he went on to learn mandolin, banjo, violin, and viola.
“I wrote a few songs, but nothing too surprising I guess,” he said.
Linton, a former Globe and Mail reporter, began playing music for people in nursing homes and hospitals in his spare time with his late first wife, Peggy. Shortly after retiring, it quickly became a full-time job, says Blair McKay, Linton’s son-in-law.
“His schedule was so packed that he could only find one day when he could come and visit his granddaughter, who had been in the country for three weeks,” says McKay.
“It shows you how busy his schedule was…and he’s still playing and performing now.”
Linton says he mainly plays familiar country or folk tunes from the 30s, 40s and 50s. He says the most requested song is You are my sun, but he’s been known to try to play songs he doesn’t know, if audience members ask for them.
“George would ask someone, ‘Oh, can you sing me a line?’ And from there, he was trying to pick up the melody or the tune that he did,” said Susan Bertoldi, operations manager for volunteer services at St. Joseph’s Health Center in Toronto.
“Not only is he a wonderful musician, but he has a very kind and gentle way with people,” Bertoldi said.
“And on top of that, he also has a pretty lively sense of humor.”
Bertoldi and McKay say it was gratifying to see someone like Linton get the recognition he deserves.
Linton himself says he hopes his award will inspire others to use their talents and passions to spread joy.
“If you can find something that you not only enjoy doing, but that other people are going to enjoy, why not continue if you can?”.