Saturday, June 03, 2017
Dear Braillists: I wanted very much to come to your farewell luncheon, as my mother, Midge Miller, founded BHBF back in 1964, but unfortunately I was not able to get a satisfactory roundtrip flight from California to Pittsburgh. So because I am unable to be with you all in person, I am doing the next best thing—writing and sharing with you my memories of how BHBF was founded, and of the vital role it played in helping me get through junior high school, high school and college, as well as a lot of other things it accomplished.
It all started back in 1964. When I was a child I always loved Winnie-The-Pooh, which my mother, father and brother used to read to me. And even as an adult, I still like it. Even Mother liked it, and she wished every blind child could have his own Braille copy of Winnie-the-Pooh. After inquiring whether Winnie-the-Pooh was available in Braille in 1964 and finding it was not, she spent three months of her time brailling Winnie-the-Pooh just for me on a slate and stylus and with a very small knowledge of Braille she had at that time, and gave me what she had brailled for Christmas. At the same time, when I started going to Sunday school at Bower Hill Church, she discovered that not only was the textbook everyone was reading from not available in Braille, but neither was the version of the Bible they were using. The only version of the Bible that was available in Braille from the American Bible Society in New York was an earlier one. Also, the nearest regional library for the blind was in Philadelphia, so Mother thought of the idea of forming a Braille group in Pittsburgh, knowing that I would soon be starting to attend school in Mount Lebanon and knowing I would need the material in Braille if I was ever to succeed. She requested assistance from the church Session, who approved the formation of a Braille group. Mother was in the very first class of Braillists in 1965, and was certified by the Library of Congress the following year. Then on September 30, 1967 the Foundation was established and then in May 1969 the library was begun.
Throughout my junior high and high school years, the Braillists brailled many of the textbooks for many of my classes, including those for my high school math and algebra classes. Even when I was going to college at Washington and Jefferson College they continued to braille books for me, even those books that had drawings for my Economics classes, as I majored in Business and Economics. When I was in ninth grade and attending Bower Hill Church’s Confirmation class, they brailled the class textbook, which was called On Holy Ground. Word of the organization spread through letters, talks, and radio interviews, and as more and more blind children integrated into their own public school districts, BHBF brailled their textbooks, too. They also brailled such things as stories for a blind boy in Korea, an Eskimo grammar book for a blind linguist, words to Girl Scout songs for a blind Girl Scout leader, and signs for various nature trails. One of their greatest accomplishments was when they brailled all three volumes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which altogether took up 44 Braille volumes. It later came out in Braille over in England, but Bower Hill brailled it first. There was once a blind Ethiopian minister named Gidada who had written his autobiography called The Other Side of Darkness, but had never had his own Braille copy of it until Bower Hill brailled it for him.
Mother jokingly said through the years that sometimes she was rather sorry she took me to Sunday school that day in 1964, but if it had not been for her I know the Braillists would never have existed. I am sad to learn that the organization will be closing, but with the advent of computer braille as well as the Internet and e-books and screen readers, all of which have made books for the blind more readily accessible, I can understand why it is happening due to a lack of braillists. I like to think that Mother up in heaven is smiling down on you at your luncheon, and I think she would be proud to know that you lasted for fifty years if she were still alive. So while I cannot be there to represent her in person, as I had hoped to do, I want to say that I hope you have a wonderful luncheon, and if there are any of you there who remember me from when I was living in Pittsburgh and before I moved to California, you are there with me in spirit.
Sincerely, Rick Miller