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10 Country: George's Wake-up Calls

March 25, 2004

Ashburn-- A man who lives right here spreads his joy with a musical instrument he learned to play in high school more than a half century ago.

George Johnston shares his talents every morning-- except Saturday-- when he makes unusual wake-up calls. As sure as a telephone has numbers, people sure count on George Johnston to help them start their day.

"I talk to people I would never get to talk to in life," says George Johnson as he sits on the floor in a bedroom about to dial a telephone number. He chit-chats with friends, lending a concerned ear, getting personal satisfaction out of just listening to others.

"I get a thrill out of helping someone along the way," says George. He offers words of encouragement. "You sound better. 'Bout to heal up?" asks George of one of his regulars.

He does more than just listen. Each person gets more than a neighborly phone call. They get a special gift from him without having to leave their homes. He plays them a song with his harmonica, just for them, one of more than a hundred songs he knows. "I play by ear. Can't read a note," admits George.

For the past seven years, between 8 and 9 o'clock in the morning, he calls people to play them a special song, taking about three minutes to spread his personal sunshine. Mr. Johnston started calling maybe 15 people at first, but then those people wanted their friends and their neighbors to get a special call, too.

And his list grew to 150 names, people who wanted their own, special wake-up call. He gladly obliged adding more and more names, more and more personal concerts by telephone to where it now takes him about three weeks to call all 150 people. "I never get tired of it. Never," says George with pride and his harmonica in his right hand, before he calls another friend.

He never intends to quit, either, at 81 years young he outlasts many of his harmonicas. "Oh, yeah. I wear out two or three a year. They cost $150 each," says George who has a drawer full of them.

He doesn't care about the cost, or the time it takes to phone as many as 20 people each morning. If he doesn't call them, his fans call him. "If I don't get one. I call to see if they are all right," says Farrell Flake, one of his regulars.

George Johnston's harmonica lessons 66 years ago help bring music to the ears of people who want his special, personalized wake-up calls to start their day on a high note.

posted at 3:00PM by dave.miller@walb.com

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