Peter Saxton

Anyone who thinks retirement is a time to put your feet up and relax has not met CNIB volunteer Peter Saxton. 

Saxton, 76, will celebrate his 50th year of volunteering with CNIB in April 2008. He has spent the lion’s share of those years as a narrator for CNIB Library’s audio book service, but says that for the first seven years he did no recording at all.

While working in 1959 as a chemistry teacher and the head of the science department at Don Mills Junior High School in Toronto, Saxton was asked by a colleague to donate two hours a week to CNIB, reading to people with vision loss. Despite having no experience in this area, Saxton agreed immediately.

Teaching “Canada’s Helen Keller”

He was first assigned to assist a young woman with her high school studies. That woman turned out to be Mae Brown, who went on to become the first deaf blind Canadian to graduate from university. Saxton calls her “Canada’s Helen Keller.

Saxton first read to her through an interpreter, who spelled the spoken words into Brown’s hand, and then he learned two hand manual communication himself. 

Over the next seven years, Saxton was part of a team assisting Brown in her studies. Always resourceful, he remembers making three dimensional maps for her, with the help of his own children, out of string, macaroni and rice so that his student could understand geographical features.

Mae Brown graduated from the University of Toronto in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and went on to begin a counselling program at CNIB for people who were deaf blind. 

The teacher gets homework

Saxton, meanwhile, had switched careers and was working in the educational publishing industry. At the same time, he began to narrate books for CNIB Library’s audio book service. Unlike the streamlined, highly technical process used today, Saxton recalls being handed a cassette recorder and a stack of magazines and being sent home to work, since there were no recording studios at CNIB at the time. He laughs as he recalls doggedly building a studio in his own home, with blankets on the walls and egg cartons stuck to the ceiling to muffle outside noise.

Today’s assignments

Back then, he concentrated mostly on “MacLeans Magazine” and “Readers Digest,” which are still produced by the CNIB Library today, but now, “I read whatever the staff tells me to read,” he says with a chuckle. 

He particularly enjoys political books, and recently completed former MP Lloyd Axworthy’s book, “Navigating a New World: Canada’s Global Future.”

He has also struck up a friendly correspondence with Canadian author and publisher, Mel Hurtig, after sending him an email saying he’d enjoy narrating one of Hurtig’s books. Now the two correspond regularly, and Saxton says Hurtig often sends him articles about subjects of particular interest.

Never a dull moment

Saxton’s busy schedule includes volunteering at CNIB Library’s Toronto studios twice a week, and spending one day a week working at a retirement home with his wife, Anne, who was his first monitor technician at the CNIB studio. From there, he carries on to Scarborough, east of Toronto, where he volunteers for VoicePrint, an audio news service that broadcasts top stories, national, regional and local, from more than 100 Canadian newspapers and magazines.

In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his grandchildren, six of his own, two of Anne’s, and reading the newspaper to keep up with current events.

He has no plans to slow down anytime soon, he says of his work with CNIB. 

“I’ll do it as long as I can,” says Saxton, beaming.