[Nfbc-info] In Memory!

Michael Peterson its_mike at sbcglobal.net
Sun Mar 1 12:48:30 UTC 2009

One of the highlights of the 1988 convention of the National Federation of the Blind
in Chicago was the appearance Thursday afternoon, July 7, of radio celebrity Paul
Harvey. In the past some of Harvey's remarks have drawn criticism from the blind,
but he demonstrated by what he said at the convention that he had read and understood
our message.
The response of the more than 2,500 delegates was tumultuously enthusiastic. Introducing
Paul Harvey, Dr. Jernigan said:
Paul Harvey broadcasts and newspaper columns have been reprinted in the Congressional
Record more than those of any other commentator in this country. He has been the
recipient of many honorary degrees, has earned eleven Freedoms Foundation awards,
and has been elected to the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. A
Gallup poll found that he was on the list of America's most admired men. Paul Harvey
News is the world's largest communications conglomerate, comprised of 1,350 radio
stations, plus an additional 400 stations of American Forces Radio around the world,
and 300 newspapers. Those are the statistics, but they don't really show the impact
that Paul Harvey has on the lives of people through his radio broadcasts. I can remember
back in my days in Tennessee listening to Paul Harvey on the radio; and, whether
for good or bad, Mr. Harvey, I thought that if Paul Harvey said it, it must be so.
I am pleased, as I am sure all of you are, that Paul Harvey is here to speak to us.
I want to present to you now Paul Harvey.
Good afternoon, Americans. Dr. Jernigan, thank you for your infectious enthusiasm
but Diane, (dear Diane), I've been sitting back hearing about repelling off one hundred
foot rocks, and have you any idea how inadequate that makes your speaker feel? I
had thought that Captain Hank Dekker was something, negotiating stormy pacific seas
with Braille charts and a Braille compass, but I'm going to tell you something. If
Hank is not here, he's a sissy. I mean he's a sissy compared to some three thousand
uncommon Americans I've watched most of the week gracefully navigating escalators,
transportation, and traffic on Michigan Avenue. You have all been properly preoccupied
today. Let me remind you that as usual our world was shaken awake by noisy headlines:
Fear one hundred and fifty dead in North Sea fire. Muggy heat persists nation wide.
Former Miss America arrested for shoplifting. Post Office crisis in Land of Lakes,
Florida. The Postmaster is refusing to allow mail deliveries to Paradise Lakes Resort.
That is the area nudists colony. Postmaster Henry Thompson says that he cannot and
will not compel his letter carriers thus to expose themselves that is, he says, to
expose themselves to possible embarrassment.
Paul Harvey, why in the world don't you news men use more good news? Why does it
always have to be tragedy and destruction and discord and disaster and dissent? Well,
now, my own network tried broadcasting a program of just good news. Do you know how
long that lasted? Thirteen weeks. It was cancelled because not enough listeners wanted
to listen to just good news. In Sacramento, California, a tabloid called itself the
Good News Paper , printed nothing else, lasted thirty-six months and it went bankrupt.
As far as I have been able to ascertain, there's only one newspaper in the U.S.A.
today printing good news. It's a little tabloid that comes out down here in Indiana
once a week, and they have to give it away because the good news that people say
they want, they just won't buy. And that's at least one of the reasons why you can
listen to any broadcast, and records are crashing, and it's the worst drought, and
the most pollution, and the recession is a depression, and don't just sit there worry!
My goodness, some broadcasters make a collision of two bicycles sound like the collapse
of civilization. Performing weathermen in Chicago in the winter they never tell us
it is zero any more, without adding that the chill factor is forty below. We never
were so uncomfortable in the winter time until somebody invented the chill factor.
Let me in fairness say this in deference to our Chicago weathermen: They did predict
seven of last winter's two snow storms. And with increasing competition for your
attention from a multiplicity of media, the agitation is worsening. Birth control
pills are bad for you; birth control pills are good for you; take your choice. In
Jackson, Mississippi, the Internal Revenue Service got a call the other day. Somebody
wanted to know if birth control pills are deductible, and the alert IRS agent on
the other end of the phone said, Only if they don't work.
News isn't news any more. News is an around-the-clock warning.
Don't breathe. The air is toxic, and it's worse indoors than out. Don't eat. The
food is contaminated. And don't drink water with chemicals in it. And for goodness
sake don't drink water without chemicals in it. Coffee can cause pancreatic cancer.
Coffee does not cause pancreatic cancer. Harvard Medical just reversed itself. Now,
the FDA wants to declare mother's milk unsafe. Honest. The Food and Drug Administration
suspects mother's milk may be unsafe, but so far they have not been able to ascertain
where to put the warning label.
Let me see if I can help you better to understand today's headlines. Bad news pays.
I'm on a foundation board which dispenses large sums for research, and many scholars
and many institutions secure money for research by producing bad news, about population,
resources, environment. And there is a demonstrable fascination with (there's a proved
public preference for) bad news, because what's bad news to somebody is good news
to many. The listener or reader of bad news can say to himself, Well, at least I'm
not as bad off as those people. Then the printer whose printing machine broke down,
or the salesman who bid too low, or the farmer who lost a crop, or the wild catter
who drilled a duster can see his problem as not so bad after all. Bad news is good
news. The reader doesn't want to read about some rich man who's healthy and happily
married. That would tend to make the reader feel sorry for himself. But if that rich
man is divorced or diseased or losing his money, that's more interesting reading
because the reader can feel himself to be better off. There's always somebody in
any hospital ward who is enough worse off to help us to feel comparatively fortunate.
And thus, Americans, the plane crash which does not involve you, the beautiful actress
with a mastectomy, the super rich car maker caught trafficking in cocaine, and the
public official in hot water, and the ex-president in exile these will continue to
be on page one for as long as the fire that burns them warms the rest of us. Before
the blind person is reconciled, he has to ask himself, Why, God? Why me? Does a friend
of yours (Paul Harvey) dare to presume on some soon broadcast, to try to answer that
question with a question for those in his radio audience who are not blind to confront
those less adequate than you with this question:
Whatever you are doing, could you do it with your eyes closed? Dave Johnson graduated
from high school and Louisiana State University. For fourteen years he did data processing.
He married what he calls the prettiest girl in New Orleans, and there's a lot of
pretty in New Orleans. Dave hosted a weekly radio program in Dallas. For seven years,
he was one company's top salesman in the southwest. So what? But could you do it
with your eyes closed? Dave Johnson has been blind since he was eight. Then Dave,
who loves animals Dave got this idea for building and operating a boarding kennel
for dogs and cats, and a pet cemetery called Avelon Gardens, which local folks called
the loveliest pet cemetery anywhere. Camelot Kennels and Avelon Gardens near McKinney,
Texas, serving a five city area including Dallas. Dave and his wife Judy with their
four sons give seven day twenty-four-hour care to the pets in their charge. I want
to ask my listeners, Of course you could, but could you do it with your eyes closed?
Last autumn I mentioned on the air that residents of the neighborhood in which I
live had been advised there would be no more door step deliveries of newspapers.
Now, somebody in a truck is going to toss the paper to the curb side. The explanation
was that no youngsters wanted to work as newspaper delivery boys and girls any more.
Then, I heard about John Miller of Omaha, a high school senior, newspaper carrier
of the year. Remember it was March, five years ago. John, thirteen, decided that
it was time he had a job. There was nothing special he wanted the money for, he just
wanted to work. I don't know if you know the preparation that went into that, because
in Omaha, when a boy decides to become a paper carrier, the newspaper sends a counselor
to talk to him. The counselor who visited John was tough, but he was fair. Would
John take his job seriously? Would he be conscientious? Would he be responsible?
Would his job interfere with his school work? But after the interview was over, the
counselor had to agree that John would make a fine newspaper delivery boy and was
he ever right. It took John about a week to learn the route from brother Dan. After
that, he was on his own. Each day he would come home from school, collect his newspapers,
and start out. He didn't own a bicycle. He walked every inch of the way. It gave
him a good opportunity, he said, to get to know his customers.
It took him about forty-five minutes to complete his rounds, and when he was through,
each newspaper had been carefully deposited at each front door step all 150 customers.
John Miller had had that route all through high school. It brought him a stereo and
a trip to the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Virginia among other things. It's brought
him something that he treasures more than all of those things that money could buy
a singular honor, the distinction as the newspaper carrier of the year. And his customers
say that it couldn't have happened to a nicer boy. But, I intend to ask my audience,
just how gifted are you? Could you do what he did with your eyes closed? He did.
Americans in this room, I am going to say something right now which is not said just
for the audience in this room. The following word, I promise, will be repeated on
some soon broadcast when the world is eavesdropping. Your National Federation of
the Blind with vigorous leadership is helping its members to better understand their
job opportunities and their legal rights, but I'm going to tell you something. It's
helping the rest of us also. For one thing, it's been helping me to recognize how
selective we have been in our concerns.
Americans somehow imagine that the good neighbor philosophy obligates us to assist
those farthest from home, often to the neglect of the neighbor right next door. We
weep crocodile tears over discrimination in South Africa, and yet we tolerate sheltered
workshops in our own country, where blind people are allowed to make brooms for a
dollar an hour. Now, that is selective indignation. Americans in their courts make
much to do about equal rights for every race, every religion, every sex. That's fine,
and yet we allow blind Americans only back-of-the-bus seating on airliners. Ever
so carefully, our politicians make certain that the homeless and the junkies have
help, and that convicts are made comfortable while dues paying, behaving blind people
are having their children taken away from them by social workers.
We must be ever so careful oh, we must be careful never to offend any of these high
paid athletes by invading their privacy to check their urine for drugs, and yet Listen
to this: if you don't already know, Christen Knouse of Rutgers University, champion
equestrian athlete, is barred from national competition because she's blind.
Make certain make absolutely certain, our misleaders insist, that employment opportunity
is better than fair for some Americans who are disadvantaged, and yet employers (and
this includes some of the biggest) still find reasons not to hire the work able blind.
Prove it? Well, today, as you know, we celebrate a national unemployment rate of
less than seven percent. Seventy percent of employable blind are without jobs. That's
a tragic waste of our nation's most precious natural resource. Again, this is a preview.
This is not just said for the applause in this room. This is to help enlighten a
nation, as I have been enlightened. Election year legislation guaranteed that Social
Security must be expanded for everybody. Everybody? In Illinois, right now, rehab
agencies distribute billions of taxpayers' money while denying services to the impoverished
blind. Americans are made to feel guilty and spend millions to rescue some endangered
specie of snail-darter or bottle- nosed lizard while cruise lines refuse to book
passage for the blind, and insurance companies (despite state laws which state otherwise)
may refuse to sell them coverage, or charge them extra if they do. And has it bothered
you? It sure does me. We send translators half way around the world to help some
tribe rewrite books in its native language, and yet American educators (and even
American educators of the blind) force the blind to use sight they don't have rather
than teach them Braille, which they can read.
This flattering invitation to address you today and my preparation for it have added
a new dimension to my own comprehension. You'll be noticing it during subsequent
broadcasts. Through this recent association with the officers of your Federation
I cannot be an instant expert, but maybe I can help some sighted person to see. Of
all of the disabilities that flesh is heir to, the one dreaded most is the loss of
eyesight. Of all of those who are different from what we consider normal, we have
the most universal compassion for the blind, and I know you appreciate that. But
I know that a lot of folks are more solicitous than is comfortable for you or useful
for them.
I learned tardily about the phenomenal independence of blind people in these last
few days. I'm going to share what I have learned. As a matter of fact, one of the
lovely things I have learned is that he or she may use a white cane or a guide dog,
or in traffic may ask to take my arm, and I am to let him decide. I am not to grab
his arm.
And I have learned from my long time pilot friend Bill Cleo that sometimes he may
prefer to lay his hand on my shoulder while he walks half a step behind to anticipate
curbs and steps. And I am not going to talk to my audience about the wonderful compensations
of blindness, because though there are compensations, they are nothing those folks
would know anything about. But so dependent are most of us on our eyes, so enraptured
are most of us by a sunset or a sunrise, that we dread perhaps more than anything
the endless dark. And yet you know, when there is an experience that we want really
to plant indelibly on our awareness, when there is an experience we want ultimately
to enjoy and permanently to remember (maybe a measure of magnificent music, or flavor,
or fragrance, or a kiss), we close our eyes. Americans, my new found friends of the
National Federation of the Blind, it is dark in my own world when my work day begins
at 3:30 in the morning and I must face another day, sorting with bare hands through
the mud and blood we call news. And it is then that I rise to wash and dress and
eat and drink and look at things and talk, and only God knows why but tomorrow, and
tomorrow, and for all the tomorrows, I will remember this day and you and that you
are but a scant half step behind me, and I will feel your hand on my shoulder, and
with my eyesight and your vision, together, we're going to go as far as we want to
As Paul Harvey concluded, the delegates stood to give him an enthusiastic, cheering
ovation. Harvey did not know that John Miller, who had been so prominently featured
in his remarks, was present, but most of the audience knew. It seemed a fitting climax
to the afternoon session for John Miller to come to the stage and be publicly recognized.
It was an afternoon which will long be remembered and true to his word, Paul Harvey
did as he said he would. He told the nation and the world about it, not once but
several times. And as a result the lives of the blind will (at least to some extent)
forever be better for it.

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