Public Officials Assess the Man
Suzanne Mitchell

From the Editor: Suzanne Mitchell is a long-time Federationist and the director of the state agency serving blind people in Louisiana. This month she begins serving a term as President of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB), the professional organization of state agency directors in the blindness field.

In April of 1998 the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind presented its first Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. Upon receiving notification of this honor, Dr. Jernigan wrote to Jamie Hilton, then President of NCSAB, and said: "The state agencies are front-line soldiers in the battle to bring first-class citizenship to the blind, and recognition from their national organization is heartwarming. Present-day reality is that agencies doing work with the blind and the organized blind movement have mutual interests and that there cannot be an adversarial relationship. Any of us who fail to recognize this truth hurt both the agencies and the blind they were established to serve. Whatever the situation may have been in bygone days, these are now the facts of life; and past grudges, long-time hatreds, and traditional squabbles must be put behind us. No, they must not be put behind us but totally forgotten in the interest of harmony and joint effort. That is my thinking; that is the thinking of the National Federation of the Blind; and that is also the thinking of all sensible people in the blindness field."

The honor bestowed upon Dr. Jernigan by NCSAB touched him profoundly. He expressed that many times in the last weeks of his life. To him, to all Federationists, and to the body of state directors in NCSAB, this recognition symbolized an historic moment and the arrival of a new day of cooperative partnership and thinking among the organized blind and the agencies. The remarks Dr. Jernigan made upon accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award speak simply and eloquently of the truths which guide our movement and our purpose in the blindness field. He said, "There is great strength in collective action. Great opportunity comes by working together toward common goals, but most of all great satisfaction comes from knowing that together we have done our individual and collective best to move blind people closer to the day when they will have the encouragement, training, and self-respect to live normal lives as normal people."

As I begin my term this January as president of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, Dr. Jernigan's words will offer me and my colleagues the same wisdom and guidance that so many of his teachings and words of counsel have done over the years. Two simple truths offered by Dr. Jernigan have proven valid time and time again. The first is "The test of a thing is if it works." The second is "If it can, it will." The National Federation of the Blind has been tested—and it works. And the development of harmony among public rehabilitation agencies and the blind has moved from "can" happen to "will" happen.

The poet William Blake once wrote, "If a thing loves, it is infinite." We all felt the love, compassion, and devotion of Dr. Jernigan and indeed, through his love, he will remain infinite in our hearts and in our movement. Through his continuing spirit, which abides in all of us, he will bring hope, a sense of destiny, and daily renewal as we continue to carry on his important work. Together we are changing what it means to be blind.