Community called on to pay tribute to the late George Gill

Jim Day
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Debby Hennessey and Bill McFadden are encouraging people to donate money to purchase a headstone for the late George Gill. Gill, a familiar character regularly seen collecting empty bottles in a shopping cart in Charlottetown, died in 2012.

“Because he was a human being’’

The barren sight of George Gill’s gravesite saddens Debby Hennessey.

A small, cracked black plastic label lying on the grass on Gill’s plot at the Union Road Community Cemetery is the only marker identifying the final resting place of one truly unique Charlottetown character.

Unlike the graves of his mother Mary and his father Walter, both buried beside Gill, no headstone exists to commemorate the late bottle collector’s life. As a result, Hennessey is left with a lonely, empty feeling.

She feels it just isn’t right for Gill to go without a headstone. Others share her view.

To help purchase a headstone, people have been dropping donations in a jar Hennessey has sitting on the counter at the Grafton Cafe that she owns and operates in the Polyclinic in Charlottetown.

Gill was a regular at the cafe. He always had one scrambled egg with a biscuit and jam.

If the small restaurant were filled with diners, Gill would still expect to be waited on as soon as he walked in.

“I would just say ‘George, you go sit down and I’ll be with you when I can.’ And he would,’’ she says.

Gill would emit what Hennessey downplays as “a bit of a fragrance’’ that would upset some of her other customers. She would be asked why she would even let Gill eat in her establishment.

So why did Hennessey agree to serve without reservation such a disheveled, social outcast at her cafe?

“Because he was a human being. I saw him as a human.’’

Hennessey’s connection to Gill goes back many years when he was growing up in a home just a short piece from the cemetery where his remains are now buried.

Hennessey knew all of his family. She went to school with his brother.

She knew Gill’s life was not an easy one, but she never really got to know the person until she bought the Grafton Cafe in 2005. She quickly felt a closeness to her oddball customer that would call people “cheeseburger’’ as a tongue-in-cheek put down.

She found him to be very intelligent. She also discovered in him quite a talent for drawing.

She believes many people do not understand the likes of a George Gill, a man that would daily push a shopping cart through the streets of Charlottetown loading up on empty bottles while firing off the odd colourful rant here and there.

Gill would encounter stares from the curious and receive nasty comments from people that saw him as different or perhaps even threatening.

One day, a somber Gill walked into the cafe, his ice-blue eyes tearing up.

“He looked at me and said ‘Why do people have to be so cruel?’ And I said ‘George, I don’t know. We have no control over what other people say. So just ignore them.’’’

Hennessey laughs at the time Gill stood her up.

Donations for the purchase of a headstone for George Gill can be made at the Grafton Cafe in the Polyclinic in Charlottetown or by calling Debby Hennessey at 367-3787. Debby Hennessey

Learning that Gill would be going to the soup kitchen on Christmas Day, she invited him to her home to enjoy a nice meal.

He reluctantly agreed, then the man with only two teeth informed Hennessey that he wanted mashed potatoes and gravy, mashed turnips and chicken, some dressing and lemon meringue pie. Not a problem, she told him.

When she called him on Christmas, Gill had a change of heart. He told Hennessey he would not be going, then abruptly hung up the phone.

He never would explain the snub, but he continued to be a regular customer at Hennessey’s cafe.

And when Gill died at age 69 on Feb. 17, 2012, Hennessey sure felt the loss, not so much of a customer, but of a special person she allowed into her heart.

For the next year, every time she scrambled an egg, all she could think about was Gill.

“There was a connection,’’ she says, standing under the shade of a tree at the Union Road Community Cemetery on a hot and humid afternoon.

“I don’t know why. I just really had a soft spot for him.’’

Local actor Bill McFadden, an eccentric character in his own right, gave Hennessey the nudge to start a collection to buy a headstone for Gill.

The thoughtful McFadden often chats with “the street people’’ in Charlottetown. He did his best to befriend Gill.

He describes the late Gill as “one of those touchstones for me.’’

He saw the man as principled — a person with a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong.

McFadden heard many nice stories about Gill. How he was quite an artist. How he was a really smart guy. He also heard how Gill had a tough past.

McFadden says getting a headstone for Gill’s gravesite is simply the right thing to do. Thoough the goodwill behind the gesture, he adds, is the true show of respect.

“It’s far more the whole process of the community coming together to do something for someone they knew rather than the stone itself being of any importance at all,’’ he says.

Perhaps the best tribute, suggests McFadden, would be for people to show greater compassion towards others who have a clear disconnect with society.

McFadden believes Gill was a big part of the community. He was seen often, by many. Yet few really knew him.

Some would offer him money, when perhaps the greatest gift would have been a genuine show of interest and respect.

“The best thing one can give is your own presence when you stop and you listen and you hear somebody and you talk to them and share their story because a lot of people do not have people to talk to,’’ says McFadden.

 

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • Ol' Cheeseburger
    July 30, 2014 - 12:26

    George definitly deserves a headstone. And I love the ideas people have posted of one showing his love of pop bottles. :) I have a suggestion for Debby Hennessey... why not start a Kickstarter campaign? I know there are many Islanders that now live away that would love to contribute to George's headstone.

  • James macInnis
    July 29, 2014 - 23:58

    The Poet said "What if you should depart in silence from the living and no friend take note of your departure". This was not the case with George. He was obviously a man who was loved by people in his community.

  • Marie
    July 27, 2014 - 08:47

    Many memories of this sweet little face and cart. RIP George...Charlottetown misses you

  • jason
    July 27, 2014 - 02:21

    awsome story and ya he was a charachter an everyone deserves a headstone come on

  • Stranger
    July 26, 2014 - 19:35

    It would be very fitting to have a custom headstone made of bottles, pop bottles. He collected them for year. Maybe a stone made of concrete and bottle would be good. Something similar to the structures they have up west at the Bottle House. Anyone who's handy with concrete could make it. Unique like him.

  • Rick
    July 26, 2014 - 15:38

    George used to come to collect the bottles that we saved up for him at the old maritime motors engine shop in Parkdale . Always polite with us but he did tear a few strips off people that teased him on the street and they well deserved it . He called the foreman " old chocolate cake " for some reason . I think he will very soon have a headstone .

  • audrey
    July 26, 2014 - 12:54

    WHEN HE WAS IN PARKDALE COLLECTING MY MOM AND DAD TOOK HIM INTO THEIR HOUSE TO FEED HIM --one day she gave him a lovely steak dinner with all the fixings and when he was leaving he told mom to have better steak next time cause he had a hard time chewing it with only 2 teeth --good laugh had by all --so growing up in Parkdale we had George with us having a bite to eat in our kitchen on Harley Street many times --we all liked him so much !!---it got that he just came up our street to go there for a bite after awhile ---rest in peace --we will giving some money to this fund for sure --THANKS TO THE ORGANIZERS OF THIS BEAUTIFUL GESTURE FOR A REALLY GOOD GUY !!--RIP you old cheeseburger

  • james
    July 26, 2014 - 12:12

    Great story!

  • Brian
    July 26, 2014 - 11:42

    I miss him a lot. A headstone shaped like a shopping cart would be perfect. I'm in!

  • Joe Doe
    July 26, 2014 - 11:00

    GEORGE WAS AHEAD OF HIS TIME,HE STARTED RECYCLING BEFORE RECYCLING WAS COOL.

  • reality
    July 26, 2014 - 10:19

    MAYBE A BIG BIG BOTTLE DRIVE AT A LOCAL RETURN STATION !!!!!!!!!!!

  • james
    July 26, 2014 - 10:01

    i didnt get to know him, or really sit down and talk to him at all, but for some reason i just always connected with George and he was a true Character and a legend in his own way, walking around town just isnt the same anymore without running into him somewhere...

  • Lucky to have known him!
    July 26, 2014 - 09:47

    I miss GEORGE to!!! I miss he and his cart on the streets..his outbursts although..profane at times..brought a smile to my face ..GEORGE was WHO he was ......he made me apppreciate how lucky I was and how lucky I was to have known him.........He was a true character......he would have coffee with the city police and the RCMP at Smitty's in the late 70's ..and whoevere left 1st would hide his cart....there would be hell to pay..as they all went looking for it......but 2 days later he would be back having coffee again.... and it would start agian..everyone had a place in their heart for him..I will be down to contribute to that jar....he deserves it.

  • George Gill
    July 26, 2014 - 08:40

    Gotta be a black one. Get a frick'n black stone, y' cheeseburger. Charlottetown is just not the same without him. Rest in peace, George.