A Hero Among Us
by Michael Baillif
From the Editor: Michael Baillif was an NFB scholarship winner in 1984. He had just graduated from high school. Having embraced the Federation's philosophy and acquired its training, he went on to graduate from a prestigious college, travel in Europe on a Watson Fellowship, and graduate from Yale Law School. Today he is a tax attorney at Davis, Polk, and Wardwell, a New York law firm with an international reputation. Here are his remarks from the memorial service:
Perhaps the greatest gift that Doctor Jernigan gave to us, both as individuals and as a movement, was his heroism. For make no mistake, Dr. Jernigan was and is a hero who, although very much human, was also larger than life. He set the standard; he showed us who we could be and what we could do.
Dr. Jernigan built furniture and sold insurance and created a training center for blind peopleso we knew we could do those things. He barbecued steaks and held wine tastings and made numerous people feel comfortable in his beautiful homeso we knew we could do those things. He was a statesman and a thinker of great thoughts and a builder of people and places like the National Center for the Blind. Because he did these things, we now know that we can do them too, not necessarily as individuals, but together, as a collective movement.
Dr. Jernigan, like his mentor Dr. tenBroek, was first and foremost a teacher who built this organization one member at a time. Dr. Jernigan had an incalculable formative impact on many of the people we now call friends and colleagues, in some cases even heroes in their own right. In particular I think of Dr. Maurer, who was Dr. Jernigan's hand-picked successor and whose strong leadership in these potentially difficult times has once again borne witness to Dr. Jernigan's wisdom and farsightedness. This time, which could have been so hard, instead will be remembered as a time of unity and celebration within our family. What greater tribute could there be to Dr. Maurer and to Dr.
Jernigan, who set the stage, even in his final days?
For no man better understood the power of the symbol than Dr. Jernigan. For decades he has been, and will continue to be, our symbol: a symbol of strength and achievement and authority tough sometimes, loving always.
Being a symbol carries with it a high price, and Dr. Jernigan sacrificed more for this organization, more for us, than he ever let on. Nevertheless, he accepted the mantle of hero, of symbol, with apparent ease and performed with zest and grace and honor that the role came to fit him as well as one of his tailor-made suits.
So now we are left with all that Dr. Jernigan symbolizes to guide us as we go forward, and go forward we shall. When Dr. Jernigan wanted someone to get moving in order to get something done, he was fond of saying, "Go man, go!" Well, I am sure that somewhere Dr. Jernigan is saying that to us right now.
So we will continue to march, and he shall be in the forefront. For heroes, such as Dr. Jernigan, never pass away. They remain in our hearts and lead us into the future.