Meet Harvard Square’s Free Advisor: George Vaill


Emilia Ferreira

George Vaill offers free advice to students and tourists.

Elaine Wen and Emilia Ferreira

In front of the Harvard T station sits a man in a lawn chair wearing a colorful hat and a sign that says “Free Advice: Offered or Accepted.” With a smile and a wave should you pass him by, George Vaill spends his summer days at the heart of Harvard Square giving and receiving advice. The Register Forum was lucky enough to interview him.

Register Forum (RF): Tell us about yourself. How did you get started and why did you choose to spend your time providing free advice?

“I love talking to all the students because they all have things they want to talk about.”

George Vaill (GV): I’m 75 years old; I grew up in New England. I live about ten miles from here, but I spend about four months of the summer here and then eight months in Florida. I started doing this … because I was looking for something to do in my retirement. I do it two or three days a week for three or four hours, right here in Harvard Square—this is where all the people are. I love talking to all the students because they all have things they want to talk about.

RF: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received or given?

GV: The best advice I’ve ever received was from a young man in Florida, about eight or nine years old. His name was Owen and he said, “You need a balloon!” And he said I needed a balloon to catch the eye of the people coming out of the market. So the next week I got a balloon and he came back and he was thrilled because I took his advice. The best advice I could give to anyone is that lots of times people ask me, “What’s the meaning of life?” I don’t have a good way of answering that, but another question might be, “What is the best way to live my life?” And the answer is to give. Give of yourself. Give from the heart.

RF: What do you do when you don’t know what advice to give?

GV: I stall. If I get a serious question, I don’t wing it at all. I’ll ask twenty questions to try to give a responsible and serious answer, so I like to ask for a lot of information before I formulate an answer. I get some very serious questions, people cry. So, I’m here to have fun and laugh and have silly conversations, but I’m also here to help people if they have a serious question.

RF: Who gives you advice?

GV: My wife.

RF: What’s the best part of doing what you do?

GV: Everybody smiles when they see me. I’m changing their day this much, a little bit … If we change somebody’s life, one time, that’s wonderful. If we change somebody’s day, that’s even better.

If you ever find yourself with some spare time in Harvard Square and desire a listening ear, or the answer to an age-old question; George will gladly offer his best advice, accompanied by an open heart and years of expertise.

This article also appears in our September 2022 print edition.