Every other Tuesday, beautiful piano melodies fill the hallways of the Neurology Unit in the QEII’s Halifax Infirmary. As you follow the music, you are lead to a solarium on the eighth floor, you find the cheerful Gary Walker plunking at the old piano’s ivory keys. Surrounding him are several patients, visitors and staff listening to the lovely sounds Gary creates.
Gary, a member of Porter Services for the past 23 years and a self-taught pianist since he was a child, has recently been honoured with a QEII Foundation Angels in Action award.
The Angels in Action program is a way of formally honouring angels at the QEII with a gift to the QEII Foundation. The nominated Angel in Action receives acknowledgement of gratitude and a lapel pin to wear proudly throughout the health centre.
Walker began playing piano at the QEII on his off time, as a way to mentally take a break from the hectic schedule of working in the province’s largest health centre, while still giving back to the patients.
“I kind of do that on my downtime or my lunch break for the patients — which is why I’m here anyway, that’s what we’re all here for,” Gary says, always with a smile on his face. “I share that part of myself around the hospital, with staff and patients.”
Now, at the request of his adoring fans, his supervisors have worked it into his schedule to be there to play regularly.
He credits his late mother with the idea of playing at the QEII after she spent time there, and loved the services and staff at the health centre.
“She told me one time, ‘you’ve got your music, I want you to put it out there,’ and it’s healing,” he says.
Walker was nominated for the Angels in Action award by staff on the Acute Stroke Unit, the nomination was lead by Dr. Gord Gubitz, an attending physician.
“We found out he was doing this on his lunch hour, we just thought it was a lovely thing,” Dr. Gubitz says.
The unit nominated Gary for an Angels in Action award because the always-humble, piano-playing porter deserved the recognition of what he does for patients and staff.
“It was really nice, I wasn’t expecting that,” Gary says chuckling. “I can appreciate it, because I’ve been here for years and I’ve never seen or heard of anything like that, and doing it through music, it’s even more rewarding for me.”
The music is so rewarding for the patients, says Dr. Gubitz. Often patients, usually stroke survivors, can be seen giving their song requests to Gary, tapping their feet or clapping in time with the piano.
“They go to therapy but they’ll [say things like] ‘I’ve got to go to therapy, but I’ve got to be done by 11 a.m. because I want to hear Gary play,’” says Dr. Gubitz.
Gary is modest about what he’s doing for the patients who make sure to get to the solarium to hear him play. He says it just makes him feel good.
“He didn’t go looking for this [award], he’s one of those unsung heroes,” Dr. Gubitz says. “He just likes to play music...so he’s always told us it’s enjoyable for him, and as long as that’s the case, then we’re good to go, because the patients love it, the staff love it, everybody wins.”
Gary plans to retire at his 25-year mark in 2015. While he’s not sure where life will take him after that, he says he knows the music won’t stop when the work does.
Though he downplays the attention he’s received for his music, he says he’s honoured by the Angels in Action recognition.
“It’s something I’ll always carry with me,” Gary says of his award.
“Music is a language of its own, I guess, because people react to that...and if it’s healing them, then that makes me feel like I want to do this.”