by Barbara Pierce
Sharon Gold liked to say that she was eleven days older than the Federation. She died quietly after a long fight with cancer on the morning of September 10, 2018, following a stroke on March 29, 2018. Her devoted friend Sheryl Pickering was with her for sixty years to the end, advocating for and supporting Sharon and steadily educating medical personnel in the last days on the sensible and tactful way to deal with blind people.
Sharon served as president of the NFB of California from 1978 to 1995. For the first five years of this service the organization was called the NFB Western Division because of a nasty battle over who had the right to the name of the organization. The affiliate was under siege during these years, but Sharon led the affiliate with energy, imagination, and unswerving dedication to the principles for which the NFB stands.
She received the Jacobus tenBroek Award in 1983 in recognition of her extraordinary work rebuilding the California affiliate. In the presentation Diane McGeorge said, “We all know that, as president of the National Federation of the Blind Western Division, Sharon was faced with the monumental task of re-establishing a viable affiliate in California. Sharon has spent countless hours, not only holding the affiliate together, but also giving the kind of leadership which provided strength and encouragement for other California members so that this affiliate has grown into one of our strongest.”
Sharon served on the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors from 1993 to 1995. When she was elected she said: When I was born, there was no National Federation of the Blind. It was born eleven days later, so you’ll always know how old I am. But, if it weren’t for the National Federation of the Blind... It has led the way for me throughout my life—it has changed my life. But most of the time I didn’t know that, not until I was thirty-five years old. That’s very sad.
When I did learn about the National Federation of the Blind, I had been teaching school for almost fifteen years, a job that I would never have gotten but for this organization, because it was this organization that got the laws changed so that blind people could get a teaching credential. So I wouldn’t have been a tax-paying citizen had it not been for the National Federation of the Blind and for all of you people in this room. It is our collective work and our collective strength that bring the changes that make it possible to change the lives of all blind people, whether they are part of this organization or not, whether or not they even know about the organization. I’m a prime example, and I will never ever be able to repay the debt that I feel to my fellow Federationists.
It is a privilege to belong to this organization. It is an honor to be asked to serve on our national board. I appreciate the honor, I accept the responsibility, and I thank you very much.”
Sharon served on the expanded Scholarship Committee from its beginning in 1984 to 1999, and she funded a scholarship in memory of her parents for several years.
For twenty years Sharon taught sighted students in elementary school and was a reading specialist at Edwards Air Force Base. She was clearly an effective teacher judging from the Facebook tributes from former students and teaching colleagues that appeared upon the announcement of her death. One Christmastime she prepared a game with fill-in-the-blank Christmas questions for her class. In a sentence that read, “Santa Claus wears a red suit and has a long, white ______,” many children unhesitatingly filled in the word “cane,” proving how well they had acclimated themselves to a blind teacher.
After her retirement from teaching, Sharon attended law school long enough to acquire the advocacy skills she believed she needed to do her Federation work. She was tireless in providing advice and representing blind people who needed advocacy all over the state.
Generosity and hospitality were hallmarks of Sharon and Sheryl’s home. In Hazel tenBroek’s declining years they spent countless hours visiting and assisting her. Their home was always open to Federationists passing through Sacramento or in need of a place to celebrate holidays. Sharon mentored and trained a number of young Federationists through the years. She was active in the posthumous efforts of the tenBroek Society to organize dinners paying tribute to Dr. tenBroek’s leadership in the fields of law and teaching.
Sharon and Sheryl relocated to the San Antonio area of Texas in late 2001. Sharon was very interested in business from her early days of teaching and became active and successful in several companies. She made live presentations and presented on telephone conference call training sessions. She won a number of trips and six BMW bonus cars. After an illness and subsequent surgery in 2010 Sharon semiretired, but she continued teaching and training and assisting others in business.
Sharon was a member of First Protestant Church in New Braunfels, Texas, and an active member of the choir for fifteen years. The group toured extensively, performing in England, Wales, Scotland, and later in Germany, Austria, and Hungary.
In lieu of flowers those wishing to honor Sharon’s memory may donate to an organization of their choice or to one of three organizations that were dear to Sharon: First Protestant Church, 172 West Coll Street, New Braunfels, TX 78130; Hope Hospice, 611 North Walnut Avenue, New Braunfels, TX 78130; or the National Federation of the Blind, 200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, MD 21230.
Sharon Gold was smart, loyal, and generous with her time and talent. She believed in justice and the right of blind people to live out their dreams and contribute to their communities on terms of absolute equality. We were extraordinarily fortunate to have her as a colleague in the movement from 1975 until her death. Those of us who were lucky enough to know and love her will miss her deeply. We extend our deepest sympathy to Sheryl Pickering and Sharon’s family and friends in Texas and across the country. May she rest in peace.