AT a spectacular 93 years of age, Tom Gilzean slips into his tartan trews, buttons up his smart jacket and treks out in all kinds of vicious weather to rattle a can. He does it for other people, so he can pass on whatever small change strangers might deign to give him to those who need it most: sick children and soldiers home in bits – mental as well as physical bits – from the horror of war zones.
Unlike some in the typical New Year Honours list, he doesn’t rub shoulders with politicians. He doesn’t mingle with royals. Indeed, when it comes to suggestions that he might have earned formal recognition of the remarkable role he plays in city life – perhaps the Freedom of Edinburgh – Mr Gilzean simply shrugs, admits he’d be delighted should it happen, then poignantly adds: “But I don’t think they’d give it to a commoner.”
Of course, there’s nothing common about Mr Gilzean. He’s a giant among men for what he does and a fitting candidate for an honour that quite rightly praises not social status but social contribution.
And recognising how perfectly he fits that bill while he’s still here to relish the honour would surely be more logical than waiting and humming and hawing until it’s far too late.
Because, seriously, isn’t the time to say well done mate, great job, we’re humbled and proud of what you do, really at a peak when the person we want to thank is around to hear it?
Take the nonsensical decision to hold fire on naming a street after Hibs legend Lawrie Reilly on the ludicrous grounds that he’s not quite dead enough.
Hang fire ten years and the football legend will finally be regarded as suitable for consideration. But it’s now, when the honour would probably mean most to those nearest and dearest – his widow Iris, for example, who no doubt played her own role in her husband’s success – that is the time to act.
People who do amazing things deserve to know how much the rest of us mere mortals hold them in esteem. Saying “thank you” for their talent, kind hearts, selflessness and spirit is too precious to be put on hold.