Heroes – In my eyes

This latest post in the Heroes series is by the wonderful Queen of UK HR blogging, Alison Chisnell. I just gave her that title, hope she doesn’t mind. As many of you know Alison started blogging after attending the inaugural ConnectingHR unconference and she’s inspired many people with her writing since. This guest post is very touching, take it away Alison:

“When Doug first tweeted about guest bloggers to write about their heroes, I thought carefully about it and drew a bit of a blank. Not because I haven’t been inspired by people, more that it’s often those that are closest to me who influence me most. Then a trip to the optician with my children prompted me to think some more about someone who is a bit of hero to me – my Grandad.

Sight is something we’ve never taken for granted in my family. My great grandmother was born blind and several of my Grandad’s seven siblings were blind from birth or had serious sight problems. Growing up in a Peabody slum, as the youngest of eight children, life can’t have been easy and my Grandad left school to start work at 14. He married at 20, with my 18 year old Nanny defying her mother’s prophetic warning that she would end up married to a blind man. Two daughters followed in the next two years and my Nan always said that she grew up with her children, rather than before having them. The third child was born some eight years later. The family shared my Nan’s Aunt’s council house for many years, until the eldest two children were grown up.

Always short-sighted, my Grandad’s eyesight started to fail him in his late twenties. A detached retina compounded his poor sight and in his thirties we he developed Best’s disease, which clouded his vision still further. He cycled to work every day, until the time in his early thirties that he knocked a little girl over, because he simply hadn’t seen her. He never rode his bike again. In later life, he had cataracts and for most of my living memory he was, to all intents and purposes, completely blind.

And yet, somehow his sight was the last thing you ever noticed about my Grandad. An alert, intelligent and engaging conversationalist, he would never reveal that he could not see and he made a huge effort to look directly at whoever was speaking to him. Intelligent, driven, proud and resourceful he was enormously inspiring in his refusal to be cowed or defined by his lack of sight. After he was made redundant in his early forties, my Grandad set up his own successful business that he ran with my Nan acting as his eyes until they finally sold it when they were in their mid-seventies. It was this business that enabled them finally to move out of the area of London where they had grown up and buy their own bungalow in the countryside. Most remarkably, when my Nan died, at the age of 80 my Grandad managed to live on his own in the bungalow for nearly a year, before he moved to a home because of his worsening Alzheimers.

My Grandad was hugely proud of his children and his grandchildren. In his early seventies he underwent an operation on his cataracts, which temporarily restored his sight. His delight at seeing our faces, his incredulity at seeing his own face in the mirror, was a truly special moment. During his lifetime, he saw one of his grandchildren suffer a detached retina and medical advances ensure that it did not ruin his sight. As the most short-sighted of his grandchildren, he was thrilled that I was able to see enough with contact lenses and an additional pair of glasses to pass my driving test. That he died before any of us knew that my cousin, his grandson, has been diagnosed with Best’s disease in his late thirties and is rapidly losing his sight, is a blessing.

So, to me, my Grandad is a hero. For overcoming a difficulty that he never considered a handicap, for refusing to be limited by other people’s expectations of him, for his sheer determination, drive and ambition. His qualities of putting people at their ease, excellent conversation and his unfailing interest in others made him very special indeed.

This post was prompted by a trip to the opticians with my children. That they have near-perfect sight and can recite the entire set of letters, that I would struggle to read many steps closer and with my contact lenses, amazes and delights me. My Grandad would have been chuffed too.”

Thanks Alison – a lovely story, it rocketed me back to my childhood playing football with my blind grandfather in our back garden. He would go in goal and we would try, with little success, to score against him. His hearing was phenomenal and he could hear where the ball was, stopping all but our very best placed shots. The fact that I’ve gone on to do interesting work with sight loss charities helps give me purpose and I think would make my Grandad chuffed too.

And that’s it. For now at least. I have no more Heroes any more (see what I did there?). I hesitate to say the book is closed because I’m always open to guest bloggers, whether it be Heroes they want to write about or anything else for that matter. This is a fun experiment, I’ve edited nothing and aside from the Heroes tag made no suggestions as to what folks should send in. I’ve published every single contribution received in chronological order, and from the feedback that’s come in I know this series has motivated and touched many people.

I’m truly grateful to every guest blogger and every commenter and every reader for helping make this so successful.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

12 thoughts on “Heroes – In my eyes”

  1. Doug, forgive me if this seems frivolous, but your concluding comments reminded me of James May’s last Manlab programme where he tackled the English failing as penalty takers in football. After all his analysis and coaching he, once again, failed to convert a penalty on the pitch in Germany.

    I wonder if your goal shooting skills improved from those early days and whether we should be tipping the wink to Cappello?

    BTW nice series!!

    1. Nice one Ian, good shot! Perhaps we should have put my blind Grandpa David in the team and watched what happened then? He had a fabulous sense of humour and would appreciate that. We’re in danger of mixing up a global football cocktail. England, Germany, Italian….and David Low was a Scot. What would FIFA say about that eh? Lovely to hear from you.

  2. Thanks Alison, your Grandad certainly is a hero 🙂

    My last role as an “employee” was as HR Manager with St Joseph’s Centre for Visually Impaired Children in Dublin, providing a wide range of services for blind & visually impaired children across the whole of Ireland. We produced Braille text books and large print text books for any child that needed it, the secondary school provided specialist education with all the technical assistance the children needed, as well as accommodation for those children who had to travel far from their families, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language Therapists, our own eye clinic, and a vocational training department for those that were leaving education and finding their way into employment.

    Part of the training I did to understand exactly what our organisation did was to “be blind”, we were brought around local roads etc without sight, with someone guiding us. It was this experience that really helped me understand a little just what it means to be blind. Sight is something that those who have take so much for granted, and anyone who can adapt to loss of such a vital sense is a hero in my book too!

  3. Thanks Doug for not only having a great idea, but seeing it through. I haven’t managed to read all of them yet, but have really enjoyed the ones I did, and especially enjoyed writing one too.

    Maybe this could be an annual topic? I know it’s been great to hear what inspires people, and I know there are many more heroes that I could write about.

    1. Thanks Claire – it’s been a lot of useful fun. I just opened the door, it’s down to you and all the guests that the project is a success.

      We may well come back to the theme, let’s see what 2012 brings eh 😉

  4. Hi Doug

    Just been catching up on some long overdue reading – and Alison’s blog really hit home – and puts elements of our own lives in perspective. I have been going through treatment for a torn retina – and been amazed at the quality of care and the technology with outpatient laser and Cryo treatments – which should prevent the detached retina issues that so many of Alison’s relatives suffered.

    It is so easy for us to criticise the standard of health care in the UK – but when I go to the Free NHS eye clinic at my local hospital for incredible care – all given with good humour and professionalism – I think that these people really are Heroes – in every sense of the word. From the admin staff through to the nurses, specialists and consultants – and the guy who brought me tea and a biscuit after the primary laser sessions – all of them work long hours and keep coming back every day.

    Comparing my small journey (although it does loom large to me) compared with that of Alison’s and your GrandDads – wow. What amazing people.

    Thanks for the Heroes series.

    Best wishes to you and all your guest bloggers and readers for the Holiday Season.


    1. Hi Al – lovely to get this super note from you. Each and every one of the comments this series has generated have added to the power of the tales in so many ways. Yours is no exception – thanks for sharing and best wishes to you also.

      Cheers – Doug

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: