Your Rich VR Heritage BRIEF #9: A Story of Trains and Great Gains in the NC Vocational Rehabilitation System
Happy Carolina Friday! While doing my Wed evening perusing of the REACH publication library looking for the best material to share with you I, ran across an interesting story that starts with trains and ends with a HUGE gain in NC Vocational Rehabilitation System. I know of several train fans in the audience (Richard Palmer, VR Engineer (Hickory) and Train Engineer (Spencer), and Mike Lindsay (QDS Winston Salem) and me to name those that immediately come to mind.
So the story begins with the Virginia-Carolina Railway, as per Wikipedia, which was an interstate railroad in operating 1887-1977 in southwestern Virginia and northwestern North Carolina. It ran from Abingdon in Washington County, Virginia to Todd in Ashe County, North Carolina. The line charted a complicated course through the mountains of the area, crossing the Blue Ridge not far from Mount Rogers. I ran across a book that covers this topic and the initial part of the story, “The “Virginia Creeper”: Remembering the Virginia-Carolina Railway,” by Doug McGuinn. A graphic of the book with a train is shown immediately below:.
For this special edition, I have retyped various portions from this book and the September-October 1955 issue of the REACH Voc Rehab Services Internal publication and will explain why later from a technical and accessibility standpoint. This portion of the story is from the book above.
“SAM” One particular day in 1913, between Todd and Fleetwood, the crews set their dynamite and charges in two holes. When set off, one of the charges fired as planned, but not the other. After some delay waiting for the second charge to go off and nothing happening, a foreman for the railroad by the name of Sam Cathey went to investigate. Just as he stopped over the hole, the dynamite discharged, leaving Sam blind and part of his face blown off. It was reported that he was blown some sixty feet from the original blast site.
Not one to be dependent on others because of his blindness, Sam set out to make a new life for himself. He mastered reading Braille and enrolled in the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill. After much dedication and work, he not only received a law degree, but later went on to become a judge of the City Court in Asheville, N.C.”
Retyped from the 1955 REACH issue:
“With bowed head, the lone figure of a man standing in a vast pastureland atop a fertile plateau near Asheville, North Carolina, turned his back upon the setting sun to face eastward. He looked downward to the rolling slopes of the foothills, across the Piedmont sections, in to the wide stretches of the peach belt and outward to the sea. And looking thus across the great Tarhelia, he saw what no human eye may see.
In solemn reverence he stood there, standing before a background of his grazing cattle dwarfed by jagged peaks of the Blue Ridge. He faced the sky now overcast by a deep shade of fiery red from the last rays of the sun.
But this man…blind…could see none of these beautiful aspects of his ranch. He smiled, stretched his arms outward as if to embrace the entire world and thanked his God.
He sensed that cotton-like clouds were passing rapidly overhead. They reminded him of his memories, recollections of the seven thousand and more persons to whom he had restored eyesight. Laughter of children rang like music in the ear of his mind, hundreds of children who have been snatched from long, useless lives of idleness without eyesight. And there was the gladdening warmth, too, of other mature voices. These voices belong to one-fifth and more of all blind persons now employed in this United States and who live in North Carolina. Yes, twenty percent of all employed blind persons in the entire country live in North Carolina.
He thought of the North Carolina State Commission for the Blind of which he has been Chairman since 1935. Then he remembered the Asheville Municipal Court of which he has been judge since 1931. Reminded of some unfinished business, he walked resolutely toward the outer fringe of the pasture back to the people who love him and call him Sam.
Yes—and he loves his people too. Judge Sam M. Cathey has already become traditional. To the thousands of visually handicapped citizens of this State, he has become a symbol of a dream come true. Actually, he lives in the hearts and minds of even those who have not yet met him. He has searched the innermost, darkest recess of misfortune among the visually handicapped and has dared defy all who challenge the thought that a blind person is not capable of work and of earning his own living. Sam has proved that in his giant strides toward his own personal success.
Eyesight was lost to him in 1912 on a construction job when dynamite exploded. Sam remembers that it took him about three years to adjust to his handicap of blindness before enrolling in the State School for the Blind at Raleigh. He remembers, too that there was no State Commission for the Blind to assist him in his adjustment. And worse still, upon his graduation, he found that blind persons were denied admission into the University of North Carolina. This situation struck the spark. He resolved then and there to establish precedent. He would open new trails. By example of accomplishment, he would prove that blindness need not be considered a bar to professional training.
First, he broke through opposition at the State University. He is the first visually handicapped man to graduate from the Institution with Phi Beta Kappa [honor society that originated at the College of William and Mary Dec 5, 1776] honors and a LLB Degree.
One of his fellow students at the University recalls that the self-same faculty members who had so reluctantly accepted Sam as a student at the University later came to him for counsel when establishing a system of student government on the campus. In those days, there was much to be hoped for in the matter of self-discipline of students. That was nearly thirty-five years ago. Students of that time can recognize to this day influences of Judge Cathey in the present honor system and student government.
This pioneer in work for the blind initiated the first social legislation for the adult blind in North Carolina. He found to his amazement that there were no provisions for text books in Braille, a system of fingertip reading for the blind. He wrote a bill which was enacted into law. This law provides tuition and expenses of blind students in state colleges and allows additional funds to be spent for reader service.
Having thus opened the way for the college training of blind persons in North Carolina, Sam surveyed other general conditions. Employment opportunities for the blind were nil. Except for the school for the juvenile blind, there were no organized groups doing anything. Blind children were being educated through high school and were being returned home to survive as best they could. Sam recognized that money spent educating blind children was well used as far as it went. But an agency for the adult blind was sorely needed, an agency with the needed funds and skill to see that these children did find remunerative employment and useful citizenship.
In 1920, Sam Cathey established his practice of law in Asheville. During the next three years, he launched what was virtually a one-man campaign, championing the cause of the blind. His vigorous insistence that blindness is no employment handicap evoked surprise and admiration among citizens of Asheville, who elected him solicitor of the Asheville Municipal Court in 1927. It was here that Cathey learned to judge human character by the human voice and through analysis of what people say. Somehow, he has found it possible to penetrate behind the raw, seamy side of life and to plainly see the fabric that is a man himself. Viewing the needs and aches of the human heart, he has averted what might have been many broken homes. This insight has enabled him to establish a record in the area of crime prevention. The people living in Asheville wanted Sam for Judge of the Municipal Court in 1931. And they have never ceased to want him at the expiration of every four-year-term since. Those who know him best have come to know him as “Judge.”
In 1934, Judge Cathey encouraged a group of citizens from all sections of the State to meet and plan for the creation of a state agency for the adult blind. These people, representing the civic, fraternal, social, educational and religious organizations of North Carolina, were inspired by this dynamic figure who had so completely defeated the severest of physical handicaps. In September, 1937, they met at Statesville to organize the North Carolina State Association for the Blind. The following January, proposed legislation to create a State Commission for the Blind was enacted into law.
Soon afterward, J.C.B. Ehringhaus, then Governor of the State, was visited by a group of blind citizens who urged the appointment of Judge Cathey to the Board of the newly created agency for the blind. At the first meeting of the Board of Directors, Cathey was chosen by the Board to act as Chairman. Originally appointed to serve a term of three years, Judge Cathey has been re-appointed by succeeding Governors to serve for four additional five-year terms. And during the past 19 years he has served the State Commission for the Blind without remuneration and has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the original North Carolina State Association for the Blind.
Remembering those dark, bleak days in 1912 immediately following the accident that left him blind, he turned his attention to the need for a social adjustment center for the adult blind. In 1947, he appeared before the Joint Appropriations Committee of the General Assembly, asking that this provision be made. At considerable financial sacrifice to himself and with neglect of his law practice, he attended many committee meetings and hearings prior to and after the creation of the first Rehabilitation Canter for the Blind in the United States. The quivering, sensitive bewilderment of the newly blind is transformed into an asset, the Rehabilitation Center being the gateway to their social and economic independence.
This Rehabilitation Center is an indispensable tool in the vocational rehabilitation of the blind. It has been the means of bringing the level of employed blind persons in North Carolina to such a new “high” that the present twenty per cent of employed blind persons living in the state will be exceeded. Training methods established under Cathey’s direction at the Rehabilitation center for the Blind have attracted people from all sections of the United States, from Egypt, France, South America, and other countries.
Along the way up, Judge Cathey has identified himself with numerous organizations in order to expand his effort and plant seeds of suggestion among as many people in the State as possible. He is a past President and member of the Asheville Lions Club. He has come as high as a 32nd –degree Mason. He has served as exalted ruler of the Elks. He is a past Governor of the Moose in North Carolina. He has served as a member of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles and of the Red Men of the World. He has contributed much as a member of the Buncombe County and State Bar Associations.
Those who have observed his long record of never ending services to his fellow-men, wonder how he has managed to accomplish so much good in so short a time. But the Judge devotes little time to the past and all that he has done—rather he likes to dream of the many other things to be done so that the blind may have equal opportunities to live, work, and enjoy life. Some say the forward progress of the blind is impossible but the cattleman of Western North Carolina quickly remember the other things that were impossible but became possible with dogged determination, hard work, and a goal. He smiles as he muses on the successes of the past and the dreams of the future which will be realized with the continued interest and help of thousands of persons across the great State of North Carolina.
Note: Judge Samuel Murston Cathey was born February 9, 1894 in Henderson, NC and died February 12, 1970 in Buncombe, NC. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=41016759&PIpi=80727494
Additional note: This special edition will be shared with Division of Services for the Blind and to keep the document as accessible as possible for screen readers, the body of the text has been typed out instead of using scans of graphics which screen readers cannot decipher well.
Finally, I will conclude this “Brief” with a concise statement from the July-August 1955 issue:
“A man can live thirty days with no food,
seven days with no water,
five minutes with no air,
but no time at all without HOPE.”
The proficient Rehabilitation Counselor inspires HOPE.
I HOPE this has inspired you to continue your proficiency in first inspiring HOPE to those who need it, then ACTING to change their status in life just as Judge Cathey did for himself and all the individuals who lived their lives more fully realized.