From the Editor: Every good recipe starts with a list of ingredients followed by the portion of each that will achieve the desired blending of tastes and the pleasurable experience it brings. The most successful blind people I know all share two things. One is a positive attitude about blindness; the other is a skillset that supports and is supported by that attitude. The blind people I regard as truly special not only share these ingredients, but blend them so they come to symbolize what is good and right in the world. Ray McGeorge, who died on June 18 and whose obituary appeared in the July 2010 Braille Monitor, was one of these, and to honor his life and memory, the Monitor prints here tributes from two members of his Federation family who loved him deeply and whose lives have forever been changed for the better because he cared about them. At the end of his story, “The Ties that Bind,” in the Kernel Book, To Touch the Stars, Kevan Worley talks about the skills Ray imparted to him. Peggy Elliott highlights the attitude Ray lived and shared with her. These two voices are representative of the hundreds of people Ray McGeorge touched in his time with us, and we are grateful for Ray and the people who have written these lines in his memory.
Ray McGeorge Made Me Tie a Tie
by Kevan Worley
When I was in training at the Colorado Center for the Blind, a group of students and I were heading out to the bus stop and talking about the things we wished we had learned as blind children. I casually mentioned wishing I had learned to tie a tie. Ray McGeorge overheard and said, "I can teach you to do that right now."
As I hurried away from the center, I told him I would appreciate the lesson. Perhaps we could get together sometime before I graduated. Ray replied slowly, drawing out his words as he always did, "I don't see why we can't get started right now."
It was past 4:30 in the afternoon, and I was ready to get back to the apartment. At the time Ray was working full-time as a machinist, and I was sure he must be tired from a hard day at work, but Ray was saying, "I'll see if we can't find a tie around here, and we'll just fix you right up." Certainly he would not be able to find a tie. But, as I stepped up to the bus stop on Broadway, I heard Ray's distinctive low voice behind me. "Come on, Kevan, this shouldn't take long. Let's get to it."
With busses going by every ten minutes, Ray stood behind me, patiently showing me how to make the knot. He had me do it until I not only got it right, but could do it again and again. "We need to do it so you will never forget," he said. And then he added, "Maybe someday you will show some other young man how to tie a tie."
It's funny how the people, events, and lessons of a life come together to create the person you become. I am now the project manager for M and K Food Service in Aurora, Colorado. I wear a tie every day. In fact, over the past six or seven years in the food business, I have collected over a hundred food-related ties. I enjoy collecting them and tying them so the knot is just right. It's a matter of pride and self-respect in a simple, very basic way.
I find myself thinking of Ray almost every morning as I tie my tie and head out the door for work. Ray reminds me of my grandpa, a man of quiet strength, wit, and patience. Not long ago I taught two young boys how to tie a tie before their first job interviews, sharing some of Ray's knowledge and confidence and passing along to others a little of the love, self-esteem, and zest for life that Ray and the Federation have so generously given to me.
The Things Ray Knew
by Peggy Elliott
Ray knew stuff. He was a big man with a voice booming enough to prevent his ever being unobtrusive. But his entire demeanor, his whole approach to the world and the beings in it, was gentle, kind, and positive. If you needed to change the way something worked or learn a new skill to sooth someone who was hurting or embolden someone who was frightened, Ray was your man.
Ray understood how the physical world worked. His skill with machines earned good money most of his life, but the knack went much further than a job. If something needed fixing or altering or replacing, Ray knew how to do it and what tools and time would be required.
With the world composed of millions of living and inanimate parts, Ray also understood how to rearrange or reorder those parts. He could organize your warehouse in a new and efficient way or help to plan the best way to move and deploy people for a demonstration against injustice.
Useful as these skills were, they were not at the core of the strength on which so many of us counted and upon which we drew. The important stuff Ray knew rested on a firm foundation of empathy and kindness—an intuitive understanding of the people around him that was charming and comfortable to the long-time friend and a beacon of hope and welcome to those who were new, fragile, or searching.
Upon meeting Ray for the first time, you took about a second to register that he never judged you, already valued you, and was ready—if you wanted—to teach you something. He was also there to help you through a personal struggle or just share a good laugh with you. He exuded a sense of confidence composed equally of assurance about himself and an interest in others. This was instantly recognizable and so genuine it drew others to him.
Ray believed deeply that people could improve, change, build new skill sets, and learn to accept more responsibility. The belief he communicated was the very same he lived: bravely and stoically facing the challenge of losing significant vision later in life and demonstrating he was as good as his word when it came to continuing to live fully and independently. Both before and after losing his sight, Ray did anything necessary to help found, grow, and stabilize the Colorado Center for the Blind so others could learn to live fully and independently.
The stuff Ray knew included a generous helping of belief in the best about people—not some theoretical "all people are good," but a down-to-earth, day-in and day-out belief about the people he knew and met and worked with daily. By his faith in them and his encouragement of them, Ray's call upon others to grow and change was answered over and over by people who understood that Ray's call was accompanied by the offer personally to help in the process.
People responded. Over the years hundreds of young and middle-aged people at the Colorado Center for the Blind learned a trick, a skill, or an attitude from Ray. As he aged gracefully himself, his call was made increasingly to seniors struggling with vision loss. They responded too: learning and laughing their way with Ray right into a new way of thinking about blindness that empowered them to be the managers of their lives once again.
Ray walked through every day telling people the truth, personally engaging with them as individuals, and being the fully complete role model who provided a living example to others. These insights, part of Ray's mental landscape, transparent to all, constituted the most important stuff he knew. He recognized it. And he knew one more thing as well: that the stuff he knew, the treasure within, could not be clutched or hoarded in solitude but must be shared in the sunshine as a proclamation of what blind people can do and be, if only they believe. Ray knew that the stuff he knew had to be given away in great handfuls so the people who needed it most would always find it in ample supply. Unlike gold, the stuff Ray knew grows by giving and shrinks by hoarding, and, when Ray died, he had one of the biggest collections around.
Any picture of Ray would not be complete without mentioning his beloved animals. While he loved and was proud of all the dogs that have lived in the McGeorge household, it was seeing Ray with a tiny little cat that revealed the depth of his love for animals. So small compared to Ray, cats had no fear of him and trusted and loved him as deeply as their larger cousins, the dogs. Cats and dogs, like people, instinctively knew that Ray was a man upon whom they could rely, and they did.When Ray fell ill near the end of his life, it was hard to imagine a man of such physical and moral strength lying quiet and unresponsive. He's gone now, having changed the world forever. We'll never hear his chuckle or his wisdom again on this earth, but we have three things for which to be thankful. One is his sterling example of how a life should be lived, a life valuing and helping others as a calling. The second is that he didn't suffer and didn't linger long, but changed worlds as he did everything else—decisively. The third is that we can be assured he's in a place where his commitment to truth, his convictions about responsibility, and his certainty about the value of every being are honored and shared. It's easy to imagine him settled back in his chair with his pipe and glass of Scotch, telling a story that ends with a laugh all round. We can all hope we'll join him again some day for those stories because the stuff Ray knew and symbolized and gave to others came directly from the best that humans have to offer.