George Garrett helps Karon Peers get into Garrett’s car before he takes her to a doctor appointment in Surrey. Garrett is a retired CKNW news reporter who volunteers his time driving cancer patients to and from appointments.
If you are going to keep up with George Garrett, you might need running shoes or possibly a pogo stick.
The relentless former CKNW breaking news reporter — retired these past 18 years after 43 years on the job — is putting the finishing touches on his autobiography, researching a book on Black Bond Books founder Madeline Neill, raising money for the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society and driving patients himself.
“When I retired I just kept on going and found other things to do,” he said, sipping a freshly refilled mug of coffee.
One of those things was driving cancer patients to their medical appointments, often with his wife Joan, who is now in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Joan was diagnosed in 2010 and it was three years before I got her into care and those were very difficult years,” he said.
Joan and George Garrett at his retirement dinner in 1999 at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. MALCOLM PARRY / VANCOUVER SUN
Life and all his projects were on hold as Joan declined and Garrett cared for her almost 24/7, with help from their daughters.
Sometimes she would get a notion to leave the house in the middle of the night or complain about the hostile intentions of the woman she saw in the mirror.
“Being a caregiver is a really difficult job and I don’t think you can understand if you haven’t done it,” he said.
Garrett visits Joan almost daily, though she doesn’t recognize him. He contributes to the larger cause by writing press releases, taking speaking engagements and generating publicity for the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
Then, when the Canadian Cancer Society ended its volunteer driver program two years ago, Garrett — to the surprise of no one — rose to the challenge, helping to found a new service.
“I had been a cancer driver and Joan came with me on many of those trips, but as she got sick I quit driving,” he said.
When the cancer society ride service shut down, two veteran drivers — Garth Pinton and John MacInnes — recruited Garrett to help form a new society.
“John still had my number and he called and said we need you to get some media coverage, so I joined them,” Garrett said. “We each put $20 on the table to register as a company and eventually we got our charitable status.”
Garrett assumed responsibility for fundraising and put his formidable contact list to work, securing meetings with former finance minister Mike de Jong and former speaker Linda Reid.
He ran into a snag when the B.C. Legislative Press Gallery would not give Garrett a media pass to wander the corridors of the Legislature. Not that it mattered. When Garrett showed up anyway, he crashed a press conference and was awarded the first question to the premier and made his presence known.
CKNW’s former top reporter, 42-yr veteran George Garrett, at his downtown studio desk. MARK VAN MANEN / VANCOUVER SUN
“De Jong took me over to security and told them to give me a fob, good for every door in the building,” he laughed.
Garrett turned that visit into $30,000 in seed funds, money de Jong “found in the bottom of the vault.”
Since then, Garrett has been on the road visiting city councils, fire halls, Rotary clubs, philanthropists and whoever else will see him and has built the new society’s cash holdings to about $100,000.
The funds are used to reimburse the society’s drivers for mileage incurred taking patients to treatment, anywhere between Abbotsford and the North Shore.
Garrett will be heading back to Victoria to buttonhole the new NDP government, once the brass has settled in.
“I made sure to spend a few minutes with John Horgan before he was elected, just in case,” he said.
In between interviews for the book about Neill’s life, Garrett is currently haggling over copy changes to his autobiography with his editor at Harbour Publishing. Tentatively titled The Intrepid Reporter, the book is due out next spring.
“I started it with the idea it would be some stories for my grandchildren, but then I thought why not just write the whole thing,” said Garrett, 82.
Sure, why not? It probably helped fill all the spare time he had on his hands after writing The Life and Times of Lighthouse McNeil, released last year.
“I wrote (the memoir) all from memory, though I did Google the dates of the Los Angeles riots where I got beat up,” he said.
That beating — sparked by the Rodney King verdict — left him with a broken jaw and vaulted him to legendary status as a newsman. And when the chance arose to go back and cover the O.J. Simpson verdict, he borrowed a flak vest and browbeat his boss into letting him go.
“I loved my job, I wish I could do it again,” he quipped.
Published in the Vancouver Sun on September 1, 2017