Music has long been known to soothe the soul and lift the spirits, and South Surrey’s Bob McMullen has experienced those benefits for most of his life. Last week, the senior was recognized for going out of his way to share them.
McMullen was among 19 individuals and teams to receive a 2016 Above and Beyond Award from Fraser Health.
The awards – presented in five categories during a Sept. 21 event at Surrey City Hall – celebrate those “who go above and beyond to achieve extraordinary results in everything from patient care to health care innovation.”
McMullen’s contribution, of playing keyboard for residents of Langley’s Arbutus Place – which provides care for seniors with complex mental health and medical needs – grew through his wife Terri’s journey with dementia.
He would play for Terri during his visits, and enjoyed the pleasure the tunes also brought to those around her; patients and staff alike.
“I like people to be smiling and happy,” he said Thursday. “Having dementia is not a very happy place.
“I felt for the people that just sit there looking at each other, argue with each other. When I start to play they all quiet down, clapping.
“I’ve always said music and laughter are good medicine.”
McMullen, originally from Ontario, began playing music in 1949, when his mother, who played piano, sent him for accordion lessons.
“I would get bored with that,” he said. “I guess I’ve got this gift of music in my soul, and I was playing music that I shouldn’t have been playing. I got told either do it their way or get out, so I got out.”
Now 80, he admits he still can’t read music – “I just play it,” he laughed.
“I can hear a song, stick a rhythm to it and away we go.”
After Terri died in September 2013, McMullen continued to play twice a week at Arbutus Place, an effort award-presenters said changes the atmosphere in the facility, much like a ray of sunshine after a storm.
Bringing some light to what can be trying work is McMullen’s goal.
“The workers, the nurses and the care aides, we really appreciate what they do for a living,” he said, referring to the efforts he and Gerry Schulz – a friend he met prior to his involvement at Arbutus Place, when their wives were both at Delta View care centre – routinely witness. “To me, it’s a thankless job, they get kicked and punched and whatnot.
“That’s why I’m doing this music.”
Despite suffering two strokes – the most recent in June, after a heart attack – and spending the summer in hospital, McMullen continues to share his music, though not as often as he’d like.
Schulz drives him to Arbutus Place every Tuesday – and has ever since McMullen’s first stroke affected his eyesight.
“I feel that he’s part of what happened to me, the award thing,” McMullen said of his friend.
And while McMullen doesn’t see his efforts as anything extraordinary, last week’s citation was a Hero Award.
“I’m just a plain little old guy,” he said. “I just think of myself as me, I don’t feel like a hero at all.
“I’m glad that I’m doing what I’m doing. I enjoy it and I make other people happy.”