by John McCann

As I sit down to write this tribute to Laurinda Steele Lacey, though it has been five weeks now since her passing, I hardly know where to begin. For each one of us, there are people we meet who have a profound impact on our lives — the things we cherish, the values we hold, the people we become. Laurinda was just such a person in my life, for reasons you will understand and appreciate after finishing this article.

Until the spring of 1965, Laurinda lived a fairly typical mid-20th century American baby boomer existence. But that all came to an end — though only a temporary one —when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor which required surgery and subsequent radiation treatments, procedures which saved her life, but which destroyed her eyesight. I should think it goes without saying that there's no "good" or "optimum" time to lose one's sight, but I personally feel that having such occur during one's teenage years has to rank as being about the worst time. For Laurinda, though, her sight loss was simply a challenge, albeit an unwelcome one, which she was determined to, and did, confront successfully with the love and support of her family and friends.

She completed high school on schedule, and after graduating from Goucher College, was selected as a presidential management intern, and began working for the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board), an agency in which she held increasingly responsible positions until her retirement in 2004. The board's original mandate was to enforce the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, but the scope of its regulatory responsibilities expanded significantly with the passage of successive amendments to the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, a circumstance which facilitated the upward trajectory of Laurinda's career of service.

For Laurinda, accessibility was not merely a job, or even a career; it was her true passion. As she loved to vacation at Rehoboth Beach, Del., in the late 1970s, she designed her own beach house to include an access ramp, though she herself did not need such an accommodation. The placement of this ramp, in the only location possible, violated a city ordinance in that it was too close to her property line, and she was told that her architectural plans would not be approved. She immediately hired an attorney, and after explaining her position to the cognizant authorities, she was granted the necessary variance. Also, those of us blind folk who regularly vacation at Rehoboth Beach and who dine at its many fine restaurants have Laurinda to thank for the fact that so many of them have braille menus.

Laurinda was also active in many activities outside of her professional commitments. She was a life-long member of her parish church, and was very involved in Curcillo, a Catholic spiritual movement. She regularly attended Ski for Light since the early '80s, and was a member of the National Capital Area chapter of ACB of Maryland. Many ACB members will remember her as the perky staff person at the convention information desk in the early '90s. She and her mother took several international vacations.

As for my personal reminiscences, I first met Laurinda in 1978 when I was working as a summer legal intern at the Access Board. We were in adjacent offices, and we became acquainted during breaks, lunch hours, and, in fairly short order, after-hours visits to Ireland's Four Provinces with several other co-workers. With my return to law school in Boston, our contact was somewhat sporadic, but I distinctly remember having dinner with her at her hotel on May 21, 1979, when she was in Boston on business. Just how is it that I can remember that specific date? Well, there are several things you need to know about me and the eve of that particular day in history in order to truly appreciate the significance of this dinner engagement: (1) I am, and was then, a fanatical New York Rangers hockey fan; (2) that was the day on which the final game of the 1979 Stanley Cup finals between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens was played; and (3) that was also the day before four successive days of law school finals. I'm thinking that dinner engagement was probably not just about getting something to eat!

I continued to see Laurinda occasionally in the D.C. area, but we would more often get together at Rehoboth Beach, usually during song fests on the front porch of the Melbourne, the bed and breakfast where I've vacationed for the last 20 years or so. I would bring the guitar; she would provide the lion's share of the merriment. It's the memories of those sing-alongs that keep going through my mind so often now. (Just don't ask me to play "Scotch and Soda" or anything by the Kingston Trio any time soon.) But, of more lasting importance and relevance, I remember, and remain continually inspired by, Laurinda's abiding religious faith, her ever-cheerful nature, her grace, and her indomitable spirit. And so we come full circle, for it is my knowledge — my witness of these qualities which has, in no small measure, shaped my life in such a positive way.

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