Eulogy

Delivered by Marc Maurer

Picture of Dr. Maurer at the Podium of the church.
Dr. Maurer delivers the eulogy for Dr. Jernigan
at St. Joseph's Monastery Church, October 15, 1998

From the Editor: Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, delivered the eulogy at Dr. Jernigan's October 15 funeral. Here is the text:

Mrs. Jernigan, Dr. Jernigan's closest and best friend;

Senator Sarbanes, who came to the Canadian Embassy a month ago to participate in honoring Dr. Jernigan when he was given the Winston Gordon Award by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind; Ellen Sauerbrey, who at Dr. Jernigan's seventieth birthday party was introduced by Dr. Jernigan as the next governor of the state of Maryland; Dr. Fred Schroeder, who was a student of Dr. Jernigan's and who currently serves as the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration of the United States;

Father Gregory; Federation members; and friends: Dr. Jernigan, who understood the spiritual dimension of human living, decided to join the Catholic Church only a short time ago. He was as thorough in his approach to becoming a part of the Church as he was with everything else. After the 1998 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the Jernigans invited Father Gregory, the pastor of St. Joseph's Monastery Church, to their home to offer a Mass. A number of the Jernigans' closest friends joined them in the dining room of their house for this celebration, in which Dr. and Mrs. Jernigan pledged their faith in the principles of Catholicism.

There have been many tributes to Dr. Jernigan in the last few days and weeks. We cannot review them all. But there is one that came dated today which says:

To the Family and Friends of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan

I would like to express my sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. Today is truly a sad day for our nation. Dr. Jernigan contributed so much to improving the quality of life for blind people in America that it would be difficult to recite even a small number of his contributions. He was a pioneer in the field of rehabilitation of the blind, a pioneer in promoting high quality education for blind children and, in particular, rekindling an awareness of the vital role of Braille literacy. Through his efforts as a champion of civil rights and his work with the National Federation of the Blind, he led blind people of our nation through the dawn of equal opportunity to a place that he called "the day after civil rights."

As you know, President Clinton and I are deeply committed to assisting all Americans in acquiring the skills and confidence they need to be fully productive and independent. Dr. Jernigan's life is perhaps the most vivid testament to what people can achieve if given the opportunity. But Dr. Jernigan did not simply claim this gift for himself; he shared it with countless others. As a result blind people today have the opportunity to live integrated, fulfilling lives. His life and work benefited all blind people and, by so doing, benefited our nation as a whole. Those of us who share Dr. Jernigan's vision of equality can honor his life by continuing to build new opportunities for all Americans.

Richard W. Riley
United States Secretary of Education

Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who served as President of the National Federation of the Blind for almost two decades and as the spiritual leader of the organized blind movement for much longer, brought into the lives of many tens of thousands of people (both blind and sighted) a measure of understanding and hope which would not have existed without his inspiration and generosity. He was a builder who could take a piece of dilapidated property and transform it. He did the same with programs for the blind, and he worked his magic on the lives of individuals.

Dr. Jernigan was our teacher, our leader, and our friend. He taught us that those who truly learn to live will recognize the vital importance of goodness, generosity, the right spirit, and the willingness to work. He taught us to use the intelligence God gave us and to go where our minds led us. He taught us to think, to speak, and to act for ourselves.

I became Dr. Jernigan's student at the age of eighteen, wondering what the future might hold for me and harboring the frightening suspicion that the answer might be "almost nothing at all." Within a year I had learned to travel effectively with a white cane, to cut down a tree with a two-man cross-cut saw, to overhaul an automobile engine, to barbecue hamburgers over a hot fire, to communicate using Braille, and to engage in debate. Dr. Jernigan gave me the tools for obtaining an education—he taught me how to think.

Dr. Jernigan and Marc Maurer with linked hands raised.
The passing of the presidency from Kenneth
Jernigan to Marc Maurer, July, 1986

Our teacher insisted on excellence. He wanted us to do our utmost, and he would accept nothing less. But the standard he set for himself was at least as demanding as the one established for us. "If it doesn't work," he said, "it isn't right." This is a difficult standard to meet, but it is the only one that matters. Sometimes we would urge him to believe that we had done the right thing, but it just hadn't worked. To which he would respond, "Don't give me that."

Dr. Jernigan believed in individual responsibility. Nobody else can live your life for you, he said; you must live it for yourself. Nobody else can make your decisions for you; you must make them for yourself. Nobody else can win your independence for you, he told us; you must win it for yourself every day. However, in winning your independence, it is necessary to ask for the help of a friend, and Dr. Jernigan was that friend.

The need for friends and colleagues to support one another is the reason for the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, and this is also why Dr. Jernigan spent almost fifty years building, promoting, and strengthening the organization. He became its President in 1968, and within seven years an affiliate of the Federation existed in every state. He saw the need for coordination among programs for the blind, and in 1978 the National Center for the Blind became reality. Today in the field of work with the blind there is greater cooperation and harmony than has existed for half a century. Dr. Jernigan understood that blind people must have a means for learning about technology, and in 1990 the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind was formed. He recognized the urgency to inform members of the general public about the normality of blindness, and the Kernel Book program of the National Federation of the Blind was founded.

He comprehended the vital importance of providing information to the blind, and the National NEWSLINE Network for the BlindŽ, the program that provides the text of newspapers to blind people over touch-tone telephone lines, was established. He perceived the necessity for the blind to have access to information about employment, and the technological program entitled "America's JoblineŽ" was initiated. He dreamed of a future for us which has never existed and which cannot exist without research and education, and the plans for the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind were drawn.

Wherever there was a need, Dr. Jernigan did his best to find a way to meet it. But he did more. He showed us the methods to do as he did. He taught us how to learn and how to live. He taught us to believe in a future bright with promise, and he gave us the techniques to meet that future with decision. We came to him without hope, and we left with confidence. We came with doubt, and we left with joy. We came with the belief that for us there was no future, and we left with a fighting spirit. By his example he showed us what it meant to give of ourselves and to love.

There were a few who knew him as "Kenneth." Most thought of him as "Dr. Jernigan." But those who knew him best called him "Sir." In one sense our beloved friend is no longer with us, but in another his spirit can never, will never depart. We have learned too well and grown too much to permit it.

When Dr. Jernigan ceased to be President of the National Federation of the Blind in 1986, he spoke to the National Convention quoting the poem of Lord Byron, which says:

So we'll go no more a-roving

So late into the night,

Though the heart be still as loving,

And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,

And the soul wears out the breast,

And the heart must pause to breathe,

And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,

And the day returns too soon,

Yet we'll go no more a-roving

By the light of the moon.

Dr. Jernigan loved the Federation and the people who make it what it is, and he found great joy in serving as its chief executive. But the measure of the man may be understood in the fact that he ceased being the Federation's President at the height of his strength and power because he knew it would be best for the movement. He gave of himself wholeheartedly, and he never counted the cost. We wish for Dr. Jernigan the rest that he so richly deserves. But we also promise what we know in our hearts to be so: that indomitable fighting spirit will go a-roving still; it will live and thrive within each of us. Dr. Jernigan, Mrs. Jernigan, and the rest of his friends and family would have it no other way.