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Don and Betty Capps stand with Dr. Jernigan aboard the Queen Elizabeth II.

Donald C. Capps

From the Editor: Don Capps has served longer on the NFB Board of Directors than anyone else. Dr. Jernigan was a close friend and formative influence in his life for more than forty years. Don wrote about his recollections of Dr. Jernigan in the Winter, 1998, issue of the Palmetto Blind, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina. Here are excerpts from what he said:

Over the years Dr. Jernigan made many trips to South Carolina and always seemed to enjoy his visits in the Palmetto State. In the 1960's Dr. Jernigan and his parents spent several Thanksgivings with Betty and me.

He was very observant. Before his Thanksgiving visits Betty would give the house a good cleaning, dusting everything, since she knew Dr. Jernigan would check out things while visiting us. He not only relied upon his great intellect but also his hands to learn, and learn he did. Using his long white cane, Dr. Jernigan, who enjoyed the out-of-doors, identified every tree in our yard.

He also loved children. During his Thanksgiving visits with us in the 1960's our two children, Beth and Craig, were small, but they still remember the good times they had with Dr. Jernigan, who would always accompany them to the nearby city park. He would ride on the swings and the see-saw with them.

Betty and I always enjoyed Dr. Jernigan's visits. We knew he enjoyed good food, and he especially liked Betty's fried chicken. We would always have two elderly sisters, Aunt Lelia and Aunt Mattie, who babysat for Beth and Craig, bake a nine-layer chocolate cake for Dr. Jernigan and his parents.

Growing up in rural Tennessee, Dr. Jernigan understood and appreciated Southern culture and down-home cooking. In the 1970's Columbians were introduced to Lizard's Thicket, considered by most to be the premiere restaurant in the area for down-home cooking. Each time Dr. Jernigan visited with us, we made sure to dine at Lizard's Thicket. Though the entree included three vegetables, Dr. Jernigan always ordered at least six and ate them all. We cherish these memories.

Dr. Jernigan had a tremendous impact upon state programs for the blind in South Carolina. At our 1964 state convention in Charleston, we adopted a resolution calling for the creation of a Commission for the Blind. When this legislation was introduced in 1965, it set off a storm of opposition from the sheltered workshop and the Division for the Blind of the South Carolina Department of Public Welfare. In 1965 our state organization was small and not very strong. We had our work cut out for us. However, we knew that Dr. Jernigan was an expert on commissions for the blind since he had been appointed Executive Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind in 1958. In 1965 the Legislature could not agree upon the merits of creating a Commission.

However, it did establish a nine-member legislative study committee to consider the advisability and feasibility of establishing a commission for the blind. Our long-time friend, Earle E. Morris, Jr., was then a member of the South Carolina Senate and was elected chairman of the study committee. Senator Morris held several hearings across the state concerning the commission bill. Ultimately the committee invited Dr. Jernigan to testify. In November of 1965 he traveled to Columbia and made an outstanding presentation to the legislative study committee, after which the nine members voted unanimously to recommend the creation of the Commission for the Blind. Several of the members told me directly that Dr. Jernigan had absolutely convinced them. Incidentally, two committee members were invited to visit the Iowa Commission for the Blind and did so. This was also highly influential in the committee's recommendation to establish a Commission.

Dr. Jernigan was NFB president in 1969 when the National Convention was held in Columbia. He demonstrated his care for South Carolina and its leaders. One nationally known speaker on the convention agenda informed Dr. Jernigan that he planned to attack Senator Strom Thurmond, primarily because the two had different political views. Dr. Jernigan quickly and clearly advised the speaker that in that case he would not be permitted to address the convention.

During that same convention a reception was given at the governor's mansion with a receiving line headed by Governor Robert E. McNair. It was the first time that any Governor had given a reception at the official residence for an NFB convention, and Dr. Jernigan was very proud of that occurrence. Shortly after the 1969 convention we traveled with Dr. Jernigan to Washington to seek Senator Thurmond's assistance. In the 1960's the NFB's primary fund-raising involved unordered merchandise such as greeting cards and neckties. Several officials of the IRS wanted to tax this project, a ruling that we believed was inappropriate and illegal.

We discussed this situation with Senator Thurmond, who requested that Dr. Jernigan write an appropriate letter. He would then place it on his official letterhead and send it to the Commissioner of the IRS. Senator Thurmond was as good as his word, and he did not change a single word of the letter Dr. Jernigan drafted for him. The IRS Commissioner, who was from Greenville, South Carolina, never gave the NFB any further trouble.

Betty and I were fortunate enough to travel abroad with Dr. Jernigan on several occasions. In 1988 and 1992 we traveled with Dr. Jernigan to World Blind Union conferences held in Madrid and Cairo. In 1989 Betty and I joined Dr. and Mrs. Jernigan for a voyage on the Queen Elizabeth II to England in celebration of our fortieth wedding anniversary. During this trip we traveled with Dr. and Mrs. Jernigan to Suffolk, England, where we visited Dr. Jernigan's ancestral home at Somerleyton Hall, which is actually a castle. A member of the British House of Lords now resides there. He gave a delightful luncheon in Dr. Jernigan's honor at Somerleyton Hall. We also visited the church where several of Dr. Jernigan's ancestors are entombed.

Our last trip with Dr. Jernigan occurred in October of 1997 as we once again boarded the QE2 in New York City for a voyage back to England. Unfortunately, during that trip Dr. Jernigan became seriously ill and was hospitalized for several days in Paris.

The first of November, 1997, Dr. Jernigan, Mrs. Jernigan, Betty, and I boarded the Concorde in London and flew back to New York City in slightly more than three hours.

Dr. Jernigan was both thoughtful and caring about others. He was especially fond of Betty. When we visited him in Baltimore, at National Conventions, or other places, he always had a music box for Betty's collection. He would say to her, "I have a pretty for you." Betty proudly displays many of these music boxes in our home. When we visited with Dr. Jernigan in Banner Elk, North Carolina, while he was receiving alternative treatment, he once again said to Betty, "I have a pretty for you." When he had heard that we were coming, he had his secretary send him a music box for Betty. The last music box he gave her was at the 1998 Dallas convention. He was also generous to me. He often remembered me with a gift when he traveled abroad. One treasured gift is beautiful cuff links, which I wear on special occasions.

Sometimes when we visited Dr. Jernigan, especially in his National Center Office, he would say to us, "I have squirreled away some goodies." He would then serve us chocolates or macadamia nuts.

Dr. Jernigan was sensitive to the special needs of people. When Hurricane Hugo caused tremendous damage in 1989, several blind families were victims. Upon learning of this Dr. Jernigan sent a check for $10,000 to assist the blind people who had suffered from the hurricane.

Even in moments of distress Dr. Jernigan could be humorous. While attending the 1988 Thanksgiving meeting of the NFB Board of Directors in Baltimore, our new 1988 Cadillac was stolen from in front of the National Center. Learning of this, Dr. Jernigan quipped, "Well Don, whoever stole it had good taste." Shortly after telling him that we could replace the car but not the several cases of cassette tapes of music we had recorded, we received copies of most of his favorite cassette tapes featuring Bing Crosby, our favorite, and others. Dr. Jernigan also knew when to respond without being asked. In May of 1997, when Betty had a serious fall while visiting our son Craig in New York City, Dr. Jernigan sent Craig Gildner, who reads the Braille Monitor, to New York City to drive us back to Columbia as soon as Betty was able to travel. You don't forget that kind of kindness.

Dr. Jernigan had many rare qualities including tremendous charisma and a magnetic personality. Never have I seen anyone with better and more ideas than he demonstrated throughout his life. He was very creative and was an intellectual giant. The book of life will require many chapters to cover the innumerable accomplishments of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. His life made our lives much better.