Braille Monitor November 1986
by Kenneth Jernigan
The ranks of the blind of the first generation of the National Federation of the Blind are thinning, but the recognition of their contribution continues to grow with each passing year. They came to maturity at a critical time in the history of the blind, and only now (with the perspective of almost half a century) is the full magnitude of their accomplishment beginning to be understood. They were dedicated, determined, and resourceful--and none was more so than Lawrence (Muzzy) Marcelino. He would not have thought of himself as a pioneer, but he was. I reflected on these and many other things when Sharon Gold called me on Sunday, September 14, 1986, to tell me of Muzzy's death. I had known and worked closely with Muzzy for over thirty years--and suddenly he was gone. As I talked with Sharon, there was of course a feeling of sadness, but this was not the predominant emotion. Muzzy had led a long and full life; his last day was filled with the kind of activity he would have chosen if he could have planned it; and his death was not prolonged with pain and suffering. Most of all, as I talked with Sharon, I remembered.
I first met Muzzy in Nashville in 1952. It was the convention of the National Federation of the Blind--my first, but not Muzzy's. He was part of that group of California leaders (first generation NFB but second generation California) who put the National Federation of the Blind together and spread it throughout the country. He was in Tennessee, and I was state president, but he was not like most of the blind people I knew in the Tennessee of that period. He had about him an air of purpose, of being at the center of things, which distinguished the California leaders of the early fifties.
From the time I moved to the Bay Area of California in 1953 to the time of Muzzy's death in 1986 we were closely associated on a continuing basis. In 1953 he was a state rehabilitation counselor and I was a member of the faculty of the California Orientation Center. He helped me learn about the California laws affecting the blind and about the details and structure of the Federation in the state. In the summer of that first year there were many meetings at Dr. tenBroek's home in Berkeley--meetings about California and also about the Federation in other parts of the country. At every one of them Muzzy was present.
It was only by degrees that I learned some of the details of Muzzy's background. He was born in Livingston, California, June 2, 1913, so at the time of his death he was seventy-three. He attended the state school for the blind and later the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 1938. He was married in January of 1953, and he and his wife Frances had a daughter (Holly), who was born in 1956.
In 1942 Muzzy moved to San Diego to take a job as a social worker in the county welfare department. He immediately became active in the local affiliate of the Federation and fought to help eliminate the visual acuity requirement for the position of Field Service Worker for the Blind (home teacher). "The chief proponent of this requirement was the then Superintendent of the Training Center for the Adult Blind in Oakland. Muzzy and his cohorts stirred up a great deal of opposition to that requirement, which was finally discarded by the State Personnel Board. . . . After leaving the San Diego County Public Welfare position, Muzzy spent a year as a Rehabilitation and Education Aide for the U.S. War Department at Dibble Hospital in San Mateo, followed by a year as a Training Officer for the Veterans Administration, then twelve years as a Rehabilitation Counselor for the Blind in the State Department of Education. Form 1961 to 1980 Muzzy was employed as a broker by the Mutual Fund Associates of San Francisco." [Footnote 1]
I believe that Muzzy attended his first NFB state convention (the affiliate was then known as the California Council of the Blind) in 1943, and it is said that he probably missed only one during the rest of his life. Of course, he attended countless conventions in other states during the years, and he was very actively a part of every national convention. He arrived early and stayed late.
I am not sure when Muzzy was first elected to the Board of the National Federation of the Blind, but he was elected Corporate Secretary in 1970. He served in that capacity until the early 1980's, at which time he asked that his name not be placed in nomination for another term. He became a member of the Board of the American Brotherhood for the Blind as early as the 1950's and continued until the time of his death. From 1969 he served as Second Vice President of the Brotherhood. He was also one of the original incorporators of the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund and was serving, at the time of his death, as Secretary-Treasurer. There was no task too difficult or too humble for Muzzy to undertake.
Muzzy was active in the Unitarian Church. He was also (something which would suprise many who knew him only in his capacity as a Federationist) an avid participant in the Rose Society of San Francisco. He loved flowers and, particularly, roses.
He loved good food and good restaurants. He loved to visit his friends.
He loved the Federation. He loved the action and bustle of working to get legislation passed and bring new members into the movement. In short, he loved life--and now he is gone.
He died of a massive heart attack at about three o'clock on Sunday morning, September 14, 1986, and the following day he was cremated. He was a member of the Neptune Society, which handled the cremation and scattered his ashes over the Pacific Ocean. On September 22 a memorial service was held for him at the First Unitarian Church in San Francisco. He was much loved, and several hundred people came to the service to mourn his death and show respect for his indomitable spirit. President Marc Maurer was there representing the National Federation of the Blind, and after the minister had conducted the service President Maurer spoke. Among other things, he said:
"I first met Muzzy in 1969. He was a seasoned veteran in the battle of the blind for independence, already having more than a quarter of a century of service in the National Federation of the Blind to his credit. He was tough, plain spoken, gentle, and generous. He was a man with a warm heart and a kind word. He was a man to be trusted--one who never wavered. He was rock solid in his commitment and understanding. Thousands of blind people throughout the nation knew and loved him because of his work in the National Federation of the Blind. We will no longer hear that resonant voice which cried out for justice, but the spirit which evoked the voice will always be with us--still alive, still vibrant. Muzzy, we are your brothers and sisters, and we will not forget."
Gary Mackenstadt, a member of the Board of Directors of the American Brotherhood for the Blind, was present and spoke of Muzzy's many years of dedicated service as an officer and Board Member of the American Brotherhood for the Blind, helping provide Twin Vision books so that sighted parents and blind children or blind parents and sighted children might read together, and making information available to the deaf-blind. All of this (and more) was part of Muzzy's work with the Brotherhood-- scholarships for blind college students, business loans for the blind, and direct assistance to those who would not otherwise have had it.
The next to speak was Sharon Gold, President of the National Federation of the Blind of California. She reviewed Muzzy's work in the state affiliate and his efforts in the California Legislature. She talked of his commitment and dedication and voiced the grief of the blind of California at his death. She went on to say:
"I last spoke with Muzzy on Saturday morning, September 13, and we made plans for him to go to Sacramento during the following week to perform his duties as Treasurer of the NFB of California. Muzzy told me of his plans to attend our Bay Area Chapter meeting that afternoon, a plan which he completed and which included meeting a blind person at a designated place along his public transportation route and bringing this person with him to the meeting to become a new member of the Federation. "When we think of Muzzy we shall remember his joyous greetings and his proud carriage of his white cane, which he frequently called his 'horse.' We shall always remember how he sought out blind students and spoke with them of the importance of education and encouraged them to learn and use the alternative techniques of blindness, including Braille, and the endless value of the slate and stylus; further, we shall always remember how Muzzy likened the Federation to an army and how he taught us to be soldiers in the trenches; and finally, we shall always remember Muzzy's lesson to us that it is respectable to be blind."
The next to speak was Hazel tenBroek, the widow of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, who founded the National Federation of the Blind. She talked movingly and eloquently of Muzzy's dedication to the movement and his work to make life better for the blind. She gave particular emphasis to his integrity and steadfastness of purpose, both in good times and bad. Her remarks are printed elsewhere in this issue of the Monitor.
As I have already said, the memorial service was held on September 22. On September 23 the California Senate adjourned in Muzzy's memory. In a letter to Sharon Gold Senator Henry Mello, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aging, said:
"Enclosed is a copy of the Senate Journal with the adjournment in memory of Lawrence (Muzzy) Marcelino. Muzzy was a helpful presence in the Capitol over many years and will be greatly missed."
The memorial service is now finished, and the tribute from the California Senate has been given. Muzzy's ashes have been scattered at sea, and his voice will no longer be heard in the legislative halls or on the convention floor. How difficult it is to accept the fact emotionally that Muzzy is gone. Courage has been defined as fear faced with resolution. If that is a true definition, then Muzzy was an extremely courageous man, for he was often afraid--but he was never a coward. He never ducked unpleasant tasks. He never asked others to do what he was not willing to do himself, and he had more genuine humility than most of the people I have ever known. It has not been easy to write this article, for I loved Muzzy as a brother and a colleague. He was one of my closest associates and friends. His passing reminds me of my own mortality. I shall miss him terribly--and so will the blind of the nation.
1. A History of the California Council of the Blind 1934-1969, by Perry Sundquist.