by Gary Wunder
On December 1, 2017, a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind died. Priscilla was a woman who spoke with an accent that left no doubt that she was from Massachusetts, and her bearing and manner of speaking left no doubt that she was a gracious, hard-working, and intelligent human being.
Priscilla joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1973, and ten years later she would become the affiliate president, serving in that role for almost a quarter of a century. She joined the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors in 1987 and served until 2005. She was also the winner of the highest award we have to offer, the Dr. Jacobus tenBroek award, which was presented to her in 2004.
Priscilla served for a number of years on the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee. I remember that she would tell scholarship finalists that as a Girl Scout leader she could cut wood, build a fire, and dig a latrine without breaking a sweat, and she expected no less from any of them. That line always got her a laugh, but there was something serious in it that was communicated to all of us: don’t whine, come up to the line, and live the life of a good scout.
I had many conversations with Priscilla, but one stands out for me. One day, after a lively discussion during a board meeting, she pulled me aside and asked if I was easily offended. I had been active in that board discussion, and I wondered if my youthful exuberance was going to get me a well-deserved reprimand. I said that it wasn’t my nature to take offense and that I was able to take constructive criticism. “Oh no, sweetie. Nothing like that. I have a funny joke that I thought you would appreciate, but it’s one you have to be careful about telling.” I was relieved, thoroughly enjoyed the joke, remember it to this day, but what I really treasure is the memory of this prim and proper lady telling me a joke I would never have ventured to tell her.Priscilla Ferris was as fine a Federationist as I have ever known, and after allowing a few seconds to grieve for her passing, I think she would want all of us to cut some wood, build a fire, dig a latrine, and see that each of our brothers and sisters get to live the lives we want.