After his mother died of cancer, Garth Pinton was driven to do more for people suffering from the disease.
While she was fortunate to live near the BC Cancer building on West 10th Avenue in Vancouver, many have to travel much longer distances to receive treatment.
One day, Pinton was out in Delta, “And I thought, ‘How would you get here?’”
It was that experience which motivated him to co-found Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society in 2016. Over the past seven years, the service has grown from 12 drivers to a fleet of nearly 450 responding to more than 31,000 patient trip requests annually.
Now, Pinton is being recognized by the society as an Honourary Life Member for his many commitments and contributions. The longtime North Vancouver resident and businessman served as VCDS’s inaugural president, and “didn’t let up when his term was done,” reads a statement from the society.
“Garth continued to personally drive patients, lead fundraising efforts, and liaised with donors in the years following, as VCDS grew,” the statement reads.
In September of 2015, the Canadian Cancer Society cancelled its driver program, which prompted Pinton – along with fellow volunteers George Garrett, a former broadcast journalist with CKNW, and John MacInnes – to take action. Recognizing the ongoing need for a free service to take cancer patients to treatment, the trio put their heads together and put wheels in motion for VCDS the following February.
“They had the vision to say that, ‘We’re just going to do this,’” said Bob Smith, the society’s current president. At the beginning, Pinton and other founding members were paying from their own pocket to fund the service, he added.
“When he stepped away from the board, he continued with driving and fundraising efforts,” Smith said. “He’s been a big part of this organization.”
Early dedication of founders has led to long-term success of organization
Sporting a black vest with the words “Honourary Life Member” embroidered near the sleeve, Pinton beams while recalling his work for the cancer drivers charity.
“I used to say at the end of the day, when I was driving a lot, ‘I feel bad that I feel so good,'” Pinton said. “Because it’s that rare charity where you’re actually looking into the eyes of those that you help.”
“We’re right there. And we’re a new face to tell their whole story to,” he said.
Patients appreciate the service, of course. But the families are especially grateful for the care that VCDS provides for their loved ones, Pinton explained.
Radiation therapy is five days a week, for four to six weeks, and drivers often wait while the patients are treated. From the outset, Pinton and his colleagues established checks for criminal and driving records.
“Because of that kind of commitment, they knew that they could pass that responsibility off to a very qualified individual,” he said, adding that drivers are also individually interviewed.
“There’s a compassion level that you need to see,” Pinton said. “The comments we get all the time are so positive about our drivers, and appreciative and thankful.”
With a career in executive recruiting that’s spanned three decades, his volunteer resume is lengthy as well. Pinton served on the board for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank for 12 years, and drove for the Canadian Cancer Society for five years before his time at VCDS.
Apart from his own motivation, Pinton said much of the momentum for success at VCDS is owed to co-founder and friend MacInnes, who died suddenly in 2017 after his own battle with cancer.
“George [Garrett] used to always call him the Energizer Bunny because he just had so much energy,” Pinton said. “He’d be knocking on doors. He and I did cheque presentations at fire halls.
“It was a vision and a mission that we felt critical to maintain,” Pinton continued. “John MacInnes used always say to us, ‘This isn’t a one-year thing, guys. This is going to be the long term.’
“I’m sure he knows just how long-term this has become,” Pinton said. “We couldn’t be happier.”
As for his own honouring by the society, Pinton said it was totally unexpected.
“You’re not doing this thing for recognition,” he said. “Looking in the eyes of the patient you’re driving is all the reward I need.”