2000: Stuff and Nonsense
2001: Moving On
Thru the Looking Glass
I also love to run.
FUNNY THE BLOG
"The Kindness of Strangers"
16 September 2005
I originally ran this
entry in the year 2000, the first year of this journal. I want to run it again
because I've just learned that Georgia has suffered a stroke, is in a coma, and is not
expected to live. For those who missed this the first time around, you need to
"meet" this special lady:
"I remember blue, but I dont know
green," Georgia Griffith told
me three years ago.
Georgias an amazing person. Ive been working for her now for about three
years, since shortly after I met her in San Francisco. She had come for a meeting of
Braille readers and Walt and I were her guests at the banquet. She was obviously the queen
of the gathering, as people flocked around to talk to her.
Its not easy to talk to Georgia. Not only is she blind, shes also deaf. She
was born blind, nearly 70 years ago, at a time when blind children were kept home or sent
off to special schools for the disabled. However, Georgias parents wanted more for
her. She was treated like other children, did her chores around the house, and played
outside with her friends, under the watchful eye of her sister, Bernie. She even learned
how to ride a bike around the streets of her small town.
When time came to go to school, her parents insisted she attend regular schools and
following graduation from high school, she was the first blind graduate of Capital
University of Ohio, from which she graduated in 1954, a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude,
with a major in Music Education. Georgia has been given IQ tests that are so far off the
charts her IQ cant be measured.
Following her graduation, she set herself up as a music teacher (she was not deaf at this
time). She had learned how to play 13 different instruments and was the organist at the
family church. Music became her life and her road to independence.
And then tragedy struck. She developed an infection which so severely damaged her ears
that she lost her hearing. She went through a brief period of depression, where she wanted
to withdraw from the world. She was taken to live with the mother of a friend of hers, who
refused to let her give up. She put her in contact with the Library of Congress, which
hired her. Georgia became the countrys only Braille proofreader of music. a job she
held from 1971 to 1987. In this capacity, she communicated with people all over the world
and taught herself to read 13 different languages fluently ("I can read four or five
other languages but not as well," she modestly explains). During this time, she also
volunteered to transcribe all 9 Beethoven symphonies into Braille because she felt blind
children should know the glory of playing Beethoven. She was living her own motto:
"To give is to live."
When budget constraints brought and end to her job with the
Library of Congress, a fund was set up to buy her a computer, a Braille keyboard (a
"Versabraille") and a modem with connection to CompuServe (this was back in the
DOS days before Al Gore invented the Internet ). It took her a little time to figure it
out, but it was her window to the world. "I was able to read a newspaper for the
first time," she says, proudly.
In no time she was an expert of computers and with the ability to connect with other users
around the world, she was given a part-time job working for CompuServe as an Information
Specialist ("...on the computer, no one can tell you're blind," she says). She
set up a database for the handicapped, not just the visually impaired, but designed to
serve people with any handicap. It was a place on line where someone with a handicap could
come with computer problems, and Georgia would find the answer for them. She also
established seven of the most popular discussion forums on CompuServe and supported
herself running these forums. She was even able to hire a small staff.
When things began to get visual, we feared for how Georgia would cope with the Internet.
The learning curve wasnt quite as intuitive as it was in DOS, but shes now
zipping along the Internet with the best of them.
Her office looks like a command center. She has several
computers (and even a monitor, if sighted people need to use her computer), as well as a
Braille printer. She crawls around on the floor feeling cords and attaching this and that
with a speed which belies her inability to see what shes doing. The walls of her
home are lined with pictures of herself with luminaries like General Colin Powell, with
whom she was honored by her home state of Ohio; Senator Mike DeWine, whom she met in
Washington DC when she was a special guest of the Smithsonian, which was giving her an
award for her work in the field of information technology for the handicapped, and letters
from several presidents commending her on her many honors and awards, including being
named to Ohio Womens Hall of Fame. She even appeared on Larry King Live, with Al
Gore, at the start of the Clinton presidency.
This "Helen Keller of the Millennium" is an amazing woman. To have a
conversation with her, you either sit by her side and draw letters in her hand (she will
answer you by speaking, since she was able to hear for 40 years, and so is still able to
speak), or you sit at a keyboard which is connected with her Versabraille. You type your
questions or comments, she reads the Braille characters which pop up on her reading strip,
and then she answers you by speaking to you.
She says she wakes up each morning with a song in her head and sings it to herself all
day. She giggles wickedly, tells terribly corny jokes and she used to make a terrific
pizza, before the infection affected her sense of balance and made her unable to walk
steadily (she mostly crawls around her house and uses a wheelchair when she goes out).
Georgias view of life is summed up in a piece she wrote in which she says,
"With a happy attitude and friends to help you, you can do whatever you genuinely
want to do in your life."
When Jeri was doing summer stock in Ohio many summers ago, Walt, my
mother and I flew out to see Jeri, but spent 2 days and a night with Georgia. It had
been my intention to write a book about her and I did several interviews, including one
with Georgia herself, but I ran into a brick wall with a crucial interviewee and felt that
I wouldn't ever be able to get the information I needed.