John Rowley
John Rowley

Christmas in June

by John and Mary Rowley

From the Editor: Early this year Joanne Wilson, director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, passed along a Christmas letter that she and the staff had received in December from Dr. John Rowley and his wife Mary. John was a scientist who had lost his sight and turned to the Louisiana Center for advice and training in 1988. He got the training he needed and returned to his family and his busy life in the Far West.

So what? Isn't that what our adult rehabilitation centers intend to enable people to do? Yes, of course, and the pattern is repeated across the country and even around the world all day, every day. That is precisely the reason for sharing the letter that the Rowleys sent to Joanne Wilson. It is a reaffirming reminder of the importance of the NFB's work training the minds and hands and spirits of blind people to go out and live their lives as fully as they can. This letter reminds us that our lives are the instruments we use to change what it means to be blind in the twenty-first century. Everything we can do to further this work must be done. Here, in the odd, Christmas-letter combination of first-person and third-person narrative is the Rowleys' letter to the Louisiana Center staff:


We wish to express our heartfelt thanks for your cheerful, warm, and informative yearly newsletter at the holiday season. It is a wonderful and meaningful reminder of John's six months at the Center in 1988. This year it is especially important for us, and John especially, to recall this major event in our lives.

It was, as you will perhaps recall, that training and introduction to the world of the blind that started John on a new career. Blindness training first made it possible to complete his professional service to the Los Alamos National Lab and to manage a two-year graduate course in independent living by living alone in Las Vegas, Nevada, and carrying out a rather difficult technical/scientific task for his employer. Then it was the normal time for retirement from what had been thirty-seven years of very rewarding and effective professional employment.

During my six months of training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind I had many hours to consider and to reflect on my past life and to debate and decide on a future course. Because the Center had clearly taught me that I could very likely continue in science and technology, which had been my life-long vocation, we decided to set up a consulting-service company, and we have very successfully done so.

A key skill has been the use of a computer with speech and access software. This training and technology has enabled John to hone his writing skills and made possible the major product for our consulting services. Because this approach was started by John's employer before retirement, we elected to purchase a computer system that John is still using today. The creation of technical reports on various scientific and technological subjects has been our major product.

We had been working in the general field of energy resources and energy research and development (R & D) before retirement, so we continued in that field. We had become rather expert in the specific area of geothermal energy and associated technology R & D.  So we elected to continue in that direction.

Fortunately, since 1985 we had worked with and for several geothermal developers in Japan. They seemed to find our consulting services valuable, so we expanded that effort and used yearly travel to Japan to extend our client base. We have made at least one major--more than a month-long--trip to Japan each year since 1985. We have visited, inspected, and advised at nearly all the geothermal reservoir developments in Japan at one time or another. In addition we have met, interacted with, and made colleagues of many engineers and scientists working in geothermal energy in Japan. We have also learned a bit of the Japanese language and have formed some rather close relationships outside of the technical areas.

For example, we know the individual at the Japanese Institute for Vocational Rehabilitation organization, who is charged with training the blind rehabilitation instructors to train Japanese blind people in job-related skills. Mr. Chuji Sashida is blind, now married, and has three children. We have visited with him several times at his offices and training center just outside Tokyo and stayed in their new home in Chiba City. In much of our extensive travels around Japan, John has sought to provide and demonstrate the skills of blindness that John initiated at the Louisiana Center and has sharpened ever since. Note: In Japan John always uses his cane in his left hand since they drive on the opposite side of the road from Americans. It is good to have a constant reminder of that fact.

In Japan John has developed several strong collegial ties and has prepared and presented technical papers at Japanese conferences, seminars, and university lectures. On such occasions the approach has been to make use of all the skills of blindness to conduct affairs, travel, and all other activities in as completely normal, independent a manner as possible. This example has provided a valuable example to all our Japanese friends, colleagues, clients, and casual contacts in streets, parks, hotels, and transportation and in every aspect of our social interactions. Indeed John always conducts himself as he does in the USA, namely as though being blind is just a part of his busy life.

We have made contact and become great friends with a family in the Wakayama Prefecture region of Japan. This is basically a rural area south of Osaka and has a long history. We met with a group that provides overseas tourists specialized tours of that region and visited and toured there each year from 1995 through 1998. We have become quite close friends with the organizer of this volunteer group, Mrs. Emiko Horikawa. She visited here in Los Alamos this past summer for eleven days, and her major interest was to learn about the spirit and functions of the many volunteer and service groups in the USA. This is because, in addition to the Wakayama Interpreters Volunteer club, she has also started a Social Welfare volunteer organization in her home town of Hashimoto, where she teaches English to high school students.

It is still very difficult for her to understand the position of a blind person like John in USA society. Indeed the idea of private volunteer service organizations is rather new in Japan; there is now a movement called NPO (non-profit organizations). This grassroots movement had its origins in the spontaneous and rather unique efforts to help the victims of the horrible Kobe earthquake, which happened rather close to Wakayama in 1995.

We have sought to demonstrate the skills of blindness in all our travels, but especially in our visits and venturing in Wakayama. During our visit in 1998 we planned a tour of several ancient temples (many founded in the late 600's and early 700's). These are part of a famous pilgrimage route of thirty-three Buddhist temples dedicated to that aspect (there are thirteen) of Buddha called Kannon, depicted as a woman, and seen as the goddess of mercy.

During that tour we were able to visit the temple called Tubosakadera, located South of Nara (the most ancient capital of Japan); and dedicated to the blind. This temple was founded by a Buddhist sect from Northern India and has several branch temples and facilities throughout Japan. It featured a large hostel--dormitories for the care of the elderly blind. It was famous for a special herbal medicine sold at the temple and said to cure blindness. This is a very ancient idea. The staff, monks, and priests, and others were astounded by John's use of the long white cane.

An interesting aspect of Japanese society and culture is that they do not ask about John's blindness since that would be a major discourtesy and very impolite. So any direct discussion on that subject must be initiated by us. It is interesting to note that, while we still seldom see blind people traveling alone (they usually use a sighted guide), we have recently seen several people using their canes and traveling independently. We believe that this is a result of the rather recent passage of the Japanese equivalent of our Americans with Disabilities Act.

Well, this is the time of the year, decade, and millennium when we tend to look back to the past, consider our present status, and reflect on and plan for the future. We were very impressed, not surprised, to learn of the progress at the Louisiana Center and found the establishment of the educational opportunities at Louisiana Tech very important and a clear fulfillment of one of the Louisiana Center dreams, since O&M is at the heart of any true rehabilitation program. Great instructors are always needed and, more important, those who can teach and train instructors.

We can imagine the excitement at the establishment of the new education center and a career center. What rewarding and important advances! We can almost visualize the start of the establishment of a new campus for the study, research, training, and furtherance of all issues for blind persons.

We wish you all a most rewarding and productive New Year 2000!

With all our love and warmest regards,

John and Mary Rowley

Graduate of the LCB in the class of July, 1988


We have purchased a new computer system, which is Windows 98-based and has new voice and access software installed. John is attempting to learn how to use this new GUI [graphical user interface] world.

We believe the mission has not changed; the mission is change. So we are dedicated to this idea and have helped a number of our clients in Japan to realize the need for change and to start the process of change.

We can well appreciate the busy and effective year ahead for the Louisiana Center and its staff and for the many students and learners who will participate. We do wish you all a very rewarding, meaningful year and envy a bit those who will have the chance to participate and learn at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.