(Left to Right) Dr. John Stockwell, Chancellor of University of South Carolina, Spartanburg; Don Capps in full academic regalia; and Betty Capps]
From the Editor: On his wife Betty's birthday, May 5, 2001, Don Capps, President Emeritus of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina and senior member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, received an honorary Doctorate of Public Service from the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg. In recognition of this honor, the South Carolina Legislature also passed a concurrent resolution. Following a series of whereases reprising Don's life of service to blind people and the community at large, the resolution said:
"Be it resolved by the House of Representatives, the Senate concurring: That the members of the General Assembly commend Donald C. Capps of Columbia, President Emeritus of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, for the invaluable contributions he has made over the last forty-five years in aiding the blind citizens of South Carolina and the nation, and congratulate him on receiving an honorary Doctor of Letters from USC Spartanburg."
Here is the press release circulated by the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind:
Advocate for the Blind to Receive Honorary Doctorate
The blind woman never went to restaurants or social events because she was embarrassed to eat in public. That changed when Donald C. Capps stepped in and persuaded her to come to a luncheon where everyone would be blind.
A young woman lost her sight when a brain tumor caused her to become blind. She and her three-year-old child were then left in poverty after her husband left her. But Capps heard about her plight and stepped in to help her find employment.
Saturday night, May 5, Capps will again step in, but this time he will step into the limelight when he will be recognized for his years of advocacy for people who are blind and visually impaired. An alumnus of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind, Capps will be given an honorary Doctorate of Public Service degree during commencement exercises at the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg. The Columbia, South Carolina, resident will be honored at the ceremony starting at 7 p.m. on the USC's Quadrangle.
Visually impaired since birth, Capps has spent a lifetime dedicating his time and talent to improving the quality of life for the blind citizens of South Carolina and the nation. He has successfully led efforts to change laws to improve education for blind citizens and served as an advocate, friend, and role model to many residents with vision impairments.
Capps was the first representative of the blind community to serve on the Board of Commissioners of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind. He has been a member of the board since 1981 and currently serves as vice chairman.
"We are very excited and happy for Mr. Capps. This honor could not go to a more deserving person," said SCSDB President Sheila S. Breitweiser, who nominated Capps for the honorary doctorate.
The youngest of eleven children, Capps grew up on a tobacco farm in rural South Carolina. Due to congenital glaucoma he was born without vision in his left eye and seriously impaired vision in his right eye. In 1947 Colonial Life and Accident Insurance hired Capps as a junior claim examiner trainee. As his eyesight deteriorated, however, he felt resigning was his only option. But the company president did not agree and noted that Capps's value to the organization was due to many other abilities besides reading. Capps went on to enjoy a thirty-eight-year career with the company before retiring in 1985.
While successful in business, Capps's greatest achievements were in his countless hours as a volunteer. As a result of his lobbying efforts, more than thirty-five legislative acts designed to improve the lives of blind people have passed the South Carolina Legislature. His work resulted in the creation of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, a state agency that provides orientation and adjustment to blindness, rehabilitation, and job-placement services.
Other legislative achievements include securing funding for needy blind people, equal treatment in jury service, voting assistance for blind people, fair-insurance coverage, access rights and guaranteed equal access to kindergarten for blind children. He also established a statewide task force to address high unemployment rates among employable blind citizens.
Capps has been instrumental in establishing a training program for teachers of blind people at the University of South Carolina. The program will be available in fall, 2001.
He has served on the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind since 1959 and has represented the NFB at conferences around the world--recently returning from a trip to Australia. He served as President of the NFB of South Carolina for thirty years and was recently named President Emeritus. At that time South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges gave him the highest honor a South Carolina governor can bestow--the Order of the Palmetto.
Recognizing a great need for low-cost recreational opportunities, Capps established a camp for blind people. Located in the scenic mountains of northern Pickens County, Rocky Bottom Camp is open year-round free of charge to blind South Carolinians and their immediate families. The thirty-acre camp is the site for a variety of recreational and educational activities including children's and seniors' camps and workshops. Owned and operated by blind people, the camp has confirmed the belief that fellowship and interaction are the best therapies for a person who is experiencing permanent blindness.
Other activities include serving as editor of the statewide Palmetto Blind magazine and former president of the Forest Acres Rotary Club in Columbia.
Other honors include the state Outstanding Leader in Education Award in 1993, the Jefferson Award for public service in 1999, and the Colonel's Way Award for Community Service in South Carolina by the national KFC restaurant chain.
Capps's service continues to make a difference every day in the lives of blind people. A man who had been depressed about his loss of vision wept when Capps visited his home. "You are the first blind person who has ever visited me," the man told Capps. Because of Capps's encouragement and friendship, the man is now serving as the president of a local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.
As the president of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind, Dr. Breitweiser said in a tribute to Capps, "He is truly an angel sent to watch over and serve individuals who are blind."