by Pat Munson
From the Editor: Pat Munson and her husband Jack are now active members of the NFB of New Mexico, but for years she was a leader of the NFB of California. She currently edits the newsletter of the NFB Seniors Division. The following loving recollection of Muzzy Marcellino is reprinted from the winter-spring 2012 edition of that publication. Muzzy was a contemporary of NFB founder Jacobus tenBroek and Newel Perry’s student at the California School for the Blind. Here is Pat’s evocation of one of the early NFB giants:
One of the speakers at the 2011 NFB convention mentioned Muzzy Marcellino and his work; he was always working for the Federation and helping blind people live its philosophy. I first met Muzzy at the 1971 NFB convention. Everywhere I went, I encountered Muzzy. He was quietly assisting a blind person to get somewhere or helping with a meeting. Dr. tenBroek had died three years before, and Muzzy was filling in the gaps where he could, but I did not understand that at the time.
After that convention I did not see Muzzy for some time, my loss, but I did not think I needed much help. You know how young folks are: be they blind or sighted, they know everything or so they think.
In the late 1970s Muzzy called to ask me to take over the editing of a newsletter. I argued that I knew nothing about writing and editing. I was simply an English teacher. He acted as if he had not heard a word I had said. He said he would pick me up at my job and that we would take the bus to the Berkeley Hills, where Mrs. tenBroek would teach me all I needed to know. You did not say no to Muzzy, so I followed him from the bus stop up the hill and up a million stairs and then up some more steps to reach the tenBroek home. We were up in the steep hills, where stairs were used for sidewalks in places because the terrain was too steep. I figured if he could travel this territory, I could do it in my high heels, but I was very nervous that I would fall off something. He kept telling me to use that white cane, and boy did I!
I remember sitting next to Mrs. tenBroek as she criticized my writing while giving me endless suggestions. I think we stayed for dinner; Mrs. T. was always feeding anyone who came through her door, which added pleasure to an exciting work session.
At one point Muzzy said I needed to meet him in San Francisco. I simply followed him around. We went to a space he had been given by a California state legislator in his office. The secretary acted as if Muzzy was a part of the office personnel. She brought him coffee, which she did for everyone, and said his typewriter had been repaired. The staff greeted him with great courtesy. I was astonished at the respect he was shown.
We then proceeded to his place of employment--at that time he was selling insurance. When he opened the door to enter, everyone stopped working and greeted him with great affection. I sat while he carried out some business, but again I was in shock at this blind man's being treated as if he were king.
Finally we went to a restaurant, where my husband joined us for dinner. Again the staff welcomed him with great respect, showed us to the best table, and told him the freshest items on the menu. Later I told my husband that I had never met such an interesting person. I assured him that blindness had nothing to do with it, but it did.
Muzzy always dressed in a beautiful three-piece suit with a crisp white shirt and perfectly polished shoes and carried his briefcase and his long white cane. We were out doing NFB business, so we dressed in business attire.
Another time I followed him as he did his work at the California state capital. We would be walking down a hall when a legislator would spy Muzzy passing the door. The legislator would stop what he was doing and call to him. The legislator would ask him what he could do to further the work of the Federation. Again I was in shock. But I did not know about the many years Muzzy and other NFB members had worked those halls to better the lot of the blind, which included me.
The most difficult outing I had with Muzzy was the following. We met at a street corner, and he announced that after a couple of errands we were going to eat lunch at a buffet restaurant. I said that I was not going to go. I hated buffets. I had been to a good adult training center and had done a buffet line, but I still didn’t like it. He simply started walking away from me. What could I do but follow? I did not argue with Muzzy because I knew in my heart that he was right.
We got to the restaurant, and he rounded up an employee whom he instructed how to assist us. He placed my hand at the first bowl, plate, or whatever and had me run my hand around the outer edge until I found the serving utensil. He had the employee tell us what was in each dish, then we quickly took the food using Muzzy's method.
At the end of the line we picked up our trays, putting an arm across the bottom, and reached a hand up to hold the drink so it could not spill. The other hand used the cane and looked for an empty chair at the same time. We then sat and ate just like everyone else in the place. Of course he was testing my blindness skills.
As we ate, we discussed how Dr. Jernigan organized a buffet hosted by the blind. A blind person stood behind the item or items he or she was serving and told each person going through the line what he or she had to offer. Since the server knew where the tray was, it was easy for him or her to put the food on the plate, but, if it was finger food, the guest could easily pick up the food being offered. It sounded simple, but then Dr. Jernigan and his students had been perfecting these techniques for years.
Another time we were working in San Francisco. We were on a crowded city bus. By the sound of the driver’s voice, he was not happy, but, when Muzzy yelled in his polite but stentorian voice from the back of the bus that he wanted to know the name of the next street, the driver very politely told him. Later the driver stopped the bus at Muzzy's stop and patiently answered his questions. My jaw dropped. I was sure that driver would have yelled at me, and that would have been that.
I later learned that a couple of decades earlier, when Muzzy had been a rehab counselor, he gave cash from his pocket to his blind clients. He would simply say that he remembered when he was a poor student, and that was that.
Muzzy and his wife owned a three-story home. The garage was at street level with his flat on the second floor; the top floor apartment was rented. He said the rent paid for upkeep and taxes. Muzzy handled all the upkeep needs of the building, and he also did all the food shopping. He took his shopping cart, which he pulled behind him, his Braille shopping list, and his cane; and off he went. Of course he could buy only what would fit in his cart, so he shopped often. Rain or shine he walked the streets to the store with his white cane always leading the way.
Of course he knew all the folks in the neighborhood and stopped many times to chat. Taxi drivers also honked when they saw him and would stop to chat. I think he knew everyone in San Francisco because he was always out and about.
Many subjects interested Muzzy. One was the planting, pruning, and caring for roses. I told him I was interested in growing roses. He gave me detailed instructions on purchasing roses, digging the holes, and acquiring all the products to nourish the soil. When I had everything ready, I called him. Shortly thereafter he showed up at my door with a suitcase in hand. Inside were his work clothes, which he quickly changed into. Then it was out to the future rose garden, where we planted and watered those rose roots. I got stabbed and jabbed, but he said I would learn to be more cautious. Again he was right.
Muzzy showed up the following fall when it was time to prune. Again I caught my fingers in those thorns, but I was reminded how much I had loved the beautiful blooms of summer. Speaking of those flowers, Muzzy was a judge for the San Francisco Rose Society. I wonder if there was anything he could not do.
Muzzy taught many blind people that it is respectable to be blind. He carried his cane with pride and educated everyone who met him. What a mentor he was! The blind who worked with him learned more than they ever could have learned from a book. He opened countless doors for many, many blind people and showed us how to change what it means to be blind. What a gift he was to the blind of this nation!