He Loved Us All
by Diane McGeorge
This is the time when we come together to celebrate Dr. Jernigan's life and to remember the good times--to share the joy and happiness he brought to many of our lives. So we could call this our opportunity to reminisce, to laugh, and possibly to cry just a little.
I have so many reminiscences of good times shared with him and with Mrs. Jernigan. When I sat down to try to capture just a few of those wonderful moments, it was hard to choose. But I have decided to tell all of you about Dr. Jernigan and Pony. Many of you in this room today remember Pony. He was the dog guide I was using at the time I attended my first leadership training seminar held by Dr. Jernigan in September of 1975. I had no idea what to expect from that seminar. I went there feeling very much out of my element and wondering what the following four days would bring. We were given a wealth of information, which I was sure I was supposed to remember and might even be tested on. The information was valuable, and no, we were not tested.
The principal effects on me during that seminar were the demonstrations of sincere love and caring that Dr. Jernigan had for all of us. And that "us" included my little golden retriever, Pony. Dr. Jernigan made it clear that, if Pony wanted to take a break or have a snack, everyone would take a break and have a snack. When I visited the Jernigans a couple of years ago, Mrs. Jernigan had a picture she had taken of Dr. Jernigan hugging Pony and Pony returning the affection. I don't know where that picture is today, but it really doesn't matter. I know how much he respected each person's choice, and in case you have forgotten that point, read once again "The Nature of Independence."
He taught me so much about compassion for others, about the work that had been done by the Federation, and about the work there will always be to do. During that first seminar he talked about the orientation center he had built in Iowa. I was totally captured by the idea that blind people really could compete equally, that the time spent in a good orientation center steeped in Federation philosophy could truly produce an entirely new way of thinking about one's self and one's blindness. I had never had the chance to attend the Iowa Commission orientation center, but watching Dr. Jernigan and other Federation leaders who had had the chance I had missed showed me that all he had said could be actualized in other centers. I think that was when the germ of an idea was born in me that I might some day start such a center.
Now we have the Colorado Center for the Blind, which has completed eleven successful years of operation. That could never have been done, nor even dreamed of, without Dr. Jernigan and the inspiration he gave me over twenty years ago. I see our students come into the center afraid of trying new experiences, not believing they count for very much because they are blind. In many small ways they have been programmed to believe that they don't count for much. Then they catch hold of the beliefs we all share about ourselves and blindness which Dr. Jernigan taught us and which he lived every day, and I know that, though he is no longer physically present with us, he will never leave us spiritually.
I have shared with you just two examples of the way he touched and changed my life. If I could talk to him just one more time, I would say: "Dr. Jernigan, you changed my thinking and by doing that, you changed my world. I made a commitment years ago to do my best to help make the lives of other blind people better by carrying on the work you did so well. I made that commitment in 1975, and it is as strong today as it was then. You taught us how to live, and you also taught us how to die. Your strength during the time of your severe illness gave us all strength--more strength than I ever thought I possessed. You didn't want us to cry; you told us all you were at peace with your death. Today we honor and remember you, but we do that every day. The best way for all of us to honor and remember you is to build and strengthen the National Federation of the Blind, to support Dr. Maurer's plans for the future--not with great speeches and flowery writings, but with good old-fashioned hard work. One of the very last things you ever said to me was, `Diane, hang tough.' Dr. Jernigan, I will.