by John McCann
It has always struck me as one of the more intriguing ironies of life — at least as I’ve experienced it — that the people who have played the most significant roles in my life are those for whom I can’t seem to fix any definitive memory of our first meeting. So it is with me and Charlie Hodge, though I know it was certainly occasioned by my developing interest in the American Council of the Blind. While I was at Harvard Law School (1977-80), I had heard about Charlie since, after graduating from Amherst College in 1968, he attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1971. While I had made the decision to forego any level of significant involvement in ACB during my law school studies, the members of the Bay State Council made sure I heard about Charlie, and they encouraged me to reach out to what was then the American Blind Lawyers Association, an ACB special-interest affiliate with which Charlie was extensively involved.
As it happens, upon graduating from law school, I relocated to northern Virginia to accept employment with the federal government. It was then that I decided to become involved with ACB; more specifically, the Old Dominion Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired, which was a very young state affiliate at the time, but one which was about to experience very significant growth with the rapid addition of several local chapters, one of these being in northern Virginia. I don’t recall whether Charlie was the ODCBVI president at that time, but he was certainly in a leadership position, and being a northern Virginia resident himself, he took a particular interest in the development of the northern Virginia chapter. If I had to guess, and as stated at the outset of this article I do, I’m thinking I met Charlie at my first ODCBVI meeting where the NOVA chapter’s charter was presented and accepted.
It should surprise no one that as fellow Harvard Law School alums and as fellow lawyers with a particular passion for protecting and expanding the rights of blind and visually impaired people, our friendship developed rather quickly, spurred on in no small measure by our mutual affinity for bluegrass music and our love of hockey. My move to northern Virginia occurred at the same time that Charlie assumed a national presence in ACB with his election to the national board. I think it is fair to say that Charlie was in the vanguard of the “second wave” of ACB leaders — the ones who stepped up in the early to mid-‘80s as those who had been instrumental in forming ACB began to become less involved. It was a very interesting time in ACB’s growth and development, and through my deepening friendship with Charlie, I was privileged to have been given a fairly intimate perspective on this period in ACB history.
Of course, even with his expanding responsibilities and national presence in ACB, Charlie remained deeply involved in legislative matters in Virginia, and it was in this context that Charlie truly became my mentor. When I think of my first few years in ACB, I think of our frequent bus trips to Richmond to testify in opposition to planned budget cuts and, in 1984-85, to support passage of the Virginians with Disabilities Act, a very progressive piece of legislation that predated the Americans with Disabilities Act by five years.
As time passed, I gained an ever-increasing appreciation for the depth of Charlie’s commitment to ACB, which, in turn helped me to become a stronger ACB member. His institutional memory was truly eidetic, and he was hence an invaluable resource to Jim and Marjorie Megivern as they undertook to write ACB’s history. He was a tireless advocate for the rights of blind and visually impaired people and of all that ACB stands for, and thus it was personally painful for me to witness Charlie’s struggle as his failing health robbed him of the ability to continue contributing to ACB at a level commensurate with his abiding love of our organization.
While there are so many things for which Charlie can fairly be remembered, his commitment to ACB is perhaps most powerfully attested to by his championship of our life membership program. He well understood that the protection of our rights as blind and visually impaired people would always be an ongoing struggle, and I can think of no better way to honor Charlie’s memory and his lasting contributions to ACB than to continue growing this important source of revenue in support of all that Charlie held so dear.