“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.”
– Elton John
The patients at Arbutus Place, an older adult tertiary facility in Langley, can attest to this, courtesy of a White Rock senior who volunteers there Tuesdays, playing electric piano and singing for their enjoyment.
Bob McMullen first visited Arbutus Place after his wife, Trina, developed complex needs.
After Trina passed away, her husband continued to visit and volunteered to play his keyboard for patients – an event they look forward to each week.
“I just like playing music for people, seeing them laugh and smile and have a good time,” McMullen said.
Despite suffering a stroke a year-and-a-half ago complicated by a number of additional health problems, McMullen, 80, was back at his keyboard within a week. In August, McMullen’s health took a turn for the worse but he has since recovered and continues to play music at Arbutus.
McMullen doesn’t volunteer solely for patients, he explained: “The caregivers have a rough job. They go above and beyond when it comes to looking after people.”
In recognition of his volunteerism and special contribution to Arbutus Place, McMullen received an Above and Beyond Award on Wednesday morning.
Above and Beyond is an annual event that celebrates the outstanding achievements of Fraser Health employees, physicians, and volunteers.
McMullen started playing music in 1949, when he was 13 years old.
“My mom was a good piano player, and wanted me to play something, so I got an accordion,” he reminisced. “I was playing an accordion all those years, not every day, but an on and off thing.”
Back in the late 1990s, early 2000s, McMullen and his wife wintered in Yuma, Ariz., where he met a “bunch of musicians.”
That’s where he picked up the keyboard he plays now.
“I taught myself how to play it,” he said. “I can’t read music; I just play it.”
When at Arbutus, McMullen said he plays “old stuff, that they [patients] used to listen to when they were younger.”
“I play a whole lot of medleys, one right after another,” he added. “I have a whole book of song titles, so I open it up, read the titles, and start playing.”
He gets a ride to Arbutus from his friend Gerry Schulz.
“The reason being,” McMullen said, “is that my eyes are not working like they used to. I had a stroke back in 2014 and it affected my eyesight, so I took myself off the road. I don’t want to be a danger to anyone.”
His latest health scare occurred in the early summer when he had to undergo open heart surgery.
“My daughter said I was on life support for five days,” McMullen said. “They were just about to write me off when doctors came to her and said I bounced back. I guess I’m lucky.”
Lucky too, for the residents of Arbutus Place, who have another opportunity to enjoy McMullen’s music.
“I don’t think about being a hero,” McMullen said. “I just like to make people happy, make them smile. I’m sort of a self-made musician and I’m passing it on to other people.”