Where does one begin the bittersweet task of paying tribute to a dear and trusted friend who has passed from this life? That is precisely the task with which I am confronted at this poignant moment, and the challenge is made even greater by the fact that he was a friend, an advocate, and a light in the darkness for so many who knew him. This dynamic and sensitive person of whom I speak is Paul Sauerland, whose long, productive and meaningful life came to a close on March 26, 2008. About a year ago, I told Paul that one day I was going to write an article about him for "The Braille Forum," and his response was, "What did I do to deserve that?" That was one of Paul's many humorous lines. Whenever someone teased him or gave him a hard time about something, he would invariably respond with a grin and a playful "Thanks a lot!" Those of us who knew and loved Paul are aware that he was someone with a gift for diplomacy which was balanced by a secure sense of self and a definitive set of values and opinions pertaining to just about every subject! His own words best illustrate this aspect of his character. Whenever Paul didn't quite agree with someone but wanted to be respectful all the same, his favorite answer was, "You have a point there "
Paul Sauerland will be remembered by all of us as someone who always did his best to live, speak, and act according to the beliefs which were most important to him; that is, his faith in God, his keen sense of right and wrong, and his desire to unobtrusively serve others. He was a man who skillfully combined his traditional Catholic identity with an awareness of social justice issues that extended far beyond that of the average person. What's more, Paul took things one step further and turned his moral and spiritual precepts into an everyday reality. He was born with sight but lost all his vision by the age of two due to congenital glaucoma. From then on, he simply compensated by learning to see with his mind and heart, and perhaps that is what I loved most about Paul. His life and example certainly lend new meaning to the well-known phrase, "We walk by faith and not by sight." It seems only right to acknowledge his 30 years of music ministry in the choir at his local parish church, St. Ignatius of Loyola in Hicksville. All other achievements aside, that in itself says a great deal about Paul as a person.
After completing his elementary and high school studies at the New York Institute for the Blind, during which time he also had the chance to explore his gift for music, Paul went on to obtain a bachelor's degree in business from Rutgers and then began the long process of searching for employment. He was eventually offered a typing job (after applying for it twice) since it was wartime and his employer needed staff to replace personnel who had enlisted or been drafted into military service. Paul patiently worked in this capacity for 10 years, until the opportunity presented itself for him to return to school and study social work. He graduated magna cum laude from the social work program at Fordham University in 1959, and in 1963, Paul began a very fulfilling 37-year career as a social worker, administrator and legislative consultant with the office of services for the blind and visually impaired at Catholic Charities in the diocese of Rockville Centre. His competence, perseverance and spirit of service are evidenced by the fact that he willingly remained at this job until the age of 80, when most of us would have to think twice about getting up early and traveling to and from work, not to mention putting in a full day at the office! Even then, Paul could not quite bring himself to retire. As his health began to deteriorate, Paul still worked from home for Catholic Charities as a consultant on legislative issues. In addition to his many years of dedicated service as a social worker, Paul Sauerland also contributed much to the advancement of legislation protecting citizens who are disabled, elderly, or oppressed in some way.
Paul received numerous awards, including the prestigious Durward K. McDaniel Ambassador Award in 2002, for his lasting contributions to these commendable causes. Over the years, he remained deeply involved in and committed to the work of advocacy by serving in various state organizations, such as the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the New York State Rehabilitation Association, and the New York State Catholic Conference Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities. At the local level, he served for a time as president of the Long Island Council of the Blind and as chairman of the Nassau County Transportation Citizens' Advisory Committee. Additionally, he served on the Catholic Charities Diocese of Brooklyn Legal Committee, and, in his later years, was an active member of a committee organized by the New York State Office of the Aging. He was also on the board of the Xavier Society for the Blind in New York City and, in 1978, participated in the drafting of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Pastoral Statement of People with Disabilities. In 1982, he was appointed to the board of the National Catholic Partnership for Persons with Disabilities, and it was in this capacity that he assisted the NCPPD's Legislative Committee in formulating key statements which contributed greatly to the eventual enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This article would be incomplete without adding a personal note to the story. For the past 10 years, I have counted Paul among my closest and most trusted friends. No matter what was happening in my life, he was always there to listen to my troubles, offer a few words of wisdom, and assure me of his prayerful support. He cared about and respected me as the person I am, without trying to change the things about me which he may not have completely understood. We could talk with each other about anything, from amusing incidents at work to world events to our personal struggles and small victories. Although conversations with Paul were always enjoyable and informative, our level of understanding and communication was such that we did not always have the need for a lot of words. Try as I might, I cannot seem to find the right words to capture the unique and lasting connection that we shared as two friends who understood, respected, loved and supported one another as individuals who happened to have many points in common.
Among the many gifts with which Paul was blessed in his lifetime are his devoted wife of 53 years, Mary, their six children, and eight grandchildren! To them we all extend our most sincere condolences and a wish for peace. Since my present workplace and apartment are not far from the home that Paul and Mary shared since October 1963, I was privileged to be a member of their parish and to attend Sunday Mass with them almost every week during the last few months of Paul's life. That spiritual dimension of our friendship is one that I cherish -- a blessing I never expected to receive. If he were here with us now, I'm sure Paul would call me to task for submitting this article, as he was someone who did the things he did out of love, not because he sought recognition. After all (and he might very well reprimand me for saying this), he was born on All Saints' Day. Paul's presence in my life is something I will treasure always, and the light of hope which he inspired will live on in our hearts.
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