Muzzy, Pinky and Gerry
Our Longtime Scholarship Honorees
By Jim Willows, Immediate Past NFBC President
Editor's Note: For this issue Jim Willows suggested that he profile three of our "old timers" for whom NFBC memorial scholarships are named. These honorees are Laurence "Muzzy" Marcelino, LaVyrl "Pinky" Johnson and Gerrald "Gerry" Drake.
Muzzy's NFB activities began in the 1940s. He attended the California School for the Blind (CSB) in Berkeley, where he was one of "Dr. Perry's boys." Dr. Newell Perry taught math at CSB. He did much more than teach math. He formed a cadre of students at CSB and instilled in them ideas of the importance of organizing blind and sighted people to work collectively to improve conditions of living for blind people, first in California and later throughout the nation. In addition to Muzzy, Perry's boys included Jacobus tenBroek, Perry Sundquist, Charlie Galloway and others. Most of these folks went on from CSB to graduate from the University of California in Berkeley. Muzzy was one of these Berkeley graduates.
Both the NFB and NFBC benefited from Muzzy's participation. The California affiliate was at that time called the California Council of the Blind. He worked closely with Dr. Perry, Dr. tenBroek and Dr. Jernigan in many of the early activities of the organized blind. Muzzy served as NFB secretary for many years. He held many other offices at the national, state and local levels. This included a term as NFBC president.
Muzzy worked as a rehabilitation counselor both in Iowa and in California. However, for most of his working life he worked as an insurance and stockbroker in San Francisco. This work gave him plenty of time for his avocation, which was to assist blind people.
Rarely seen in anything but a three-piece suit, Muzzy was an immaculate dresser. His manners and speech were equally impeccable.
Muzzy's favorite assignments were representing the NFBC in the California State Legislature. He did this work for so many years that he was known as "Mr. Federation" by most of the legislators and administrators throughout the state. It would take more space than we have available to describe his legislative activities.
Favorite activities for Muzzy included traveling to Sacramento, Los Angeles, Des Moines or Baltimore. He could not sit still for very long. I remember Muzzy pacing the back of the room at conventions, board meetings and even at chapter meetings. In most discussions, Muzzy's voice would ring out from the back of the room with a key insight to move our deliberations along.
Muzzy was a real man of action. He always said that the heart of the Federation was in local chapter meetings. He very rarely missed a local meeting. In fact, after attending a Saturday afternoon meeting in the Bay Area, he began to feel ill. Leif Johnson saw that Muzzy did not look well and drove him home to San Francisco. Upon arriving at home, Muzzy took a taxi to the emergency room at his local hospital. He died that same evening of heart failure.
Muzzy lived in San Francisco for most, if not all, of his life. His wife, Frances, and his daughter, Holly, survived him at the time of his death. Upon his death in September of 1986, Muzzy was honored by the Legislature, which adjourned in his honor. We who knew Muzzy will always remember him with great respect and fondness. He was a real giant of our movement.
While Muzzy Marcelino's involvement in the NFB dates back to its founding, LaVyrl "Pinky" Johnson became a Federationist in the mid-1950s. She attended the California Orientation Center for the Blind (OCB) in 1955 and 1956. Kenneth Jernigan was teaching at OCB at this time and the students frequently met with Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. Thus, Pinky was well grounded in the activities and philosophy of the NFB right from the start of her Federation career.
At the time Pinky lost her sight, she was told the loss was due to a neurological illness. This illness turned out to be Multiple Sclerosis. At this time Pinky lived in Oakland with her husband Leif and her two young children, Janet and Milt. All three of these family members were very supportive of her Federation work throughout her lifetime.
After leaving OCB, Pinky became active in both the Alameda County Club of the Adult Blind and in the Alameda County Club of Blind Women. Both organizations were affiliated with the NFB, but I believe the women's group later affiliated with the American Council of the Blind. Pinky was no longer a member by this time.
The OCB program had started in 1952 following the passage of legislation sponsored by the NFB and carried by Senator Ernest Crowley, a state Senator who happened to be blind. From time to time the OCB program came under attack by legislators or by members of the administration in Sacramento. Several alumni of OCB, including Pinky, decided to organize an OCB Alumni Association to collectively defend the Center from such attacks. Pinky was an officer in the Alumni Association until shortly before her death in 1999.
For many years Pinky edited and distributed the semi-annual "OCB Alumni Newsletter." She kept in touch with literally hundreds of former OCB students and told of their job successes, happy events and moves throughout the country. Mike Cole, current OCB director, tells me there is still a collection of these newsletters in the OCB library.
Pinky's favorite assignment for many years was her work with the Legislature in Sacramento. She traveled there several times a month to help Muzzy in testifying on behalf of our bills. She also testified in committee hearings and visited legislators at the State Capitol. She did this work until her MS confined her in a wheelchair in 1977.
In the summer of 1978 Pinky and I and several others resigned from the Alameda County Club, which stayed with Bob Acosta after his expulsion from the NFB. We formed a new chapter, the Bay Area chapter, which is still in existence today. Such people as Hazel tenBroek, Muzzy Marcelino, Jim McGinnis, Pat and Jack Munson, Pinky and Leif Johnson, and me founded this chapter. Because of Pinky being confined to a wheelchair, we decided to meet at her home in the Piedmont area of Oakland. We continued to meet there until her death.
Pinky held many offices at the state and local levels. She was a member of the NFBC board from the '70s through the '90s. She did not miss a state or national convention from the '60s through the mid-'90s.
Both Pinky and Leif were wonderful people. They often went out of their way to help other Federationists or blind people in general. Pat Munson and I both experienced Pinky's caring and guidance. During our first convention she took us under her wing and made sure we missed nothing and that we were introduced to many Federation leaders and others. The NFB is much richer because Pinky and Leif Johnson were such an important part of it.
Gerrald "Gerry" Drake is the third long-time member for whom an NFBC scholarship is named. Gerry became acquainted with the NFB through his attendance at the OCB in the mid-'50s. Gerry met Dr. Jernigan and the many other wonderful OCB teachers of that era. Gerry always enjoyed relating stories about how he and other OCB students gathered at the tenBroek home on Shasta Road in Berkeley. They cut down many trees and cleared the land on which the NFB national office was to be built. Gerry became a good friend of Dr. and Mrs. tenBroek.
Upon completion of his OCB work, Gerry returned to his home in Torrance, a Los Angeles suburb. He quickly became active in several NFB local chapters and volunteered at our state office, which was then located in Los Angeles.
Gerry probably knew the huge Los Angeles metropolitan bus system as well as any other citizen of that city. He would not hesitate to spend hours on buses to go to an NFBC chapter meeting or to go to the NFBC office on South Western Avenue. Here he would help Tony Mannino, Jim McGinnis or others on the staff to prepare mailings, label envelopes or do anything else that needed to be done. Gerry became one of the better known Federationists in California because of all of this activity.
Gerry was elected corporate secretary of the NFBC, a position he held until then-president Bob Acosta changed the locks on the state office to keep Gerry out. Of course, Bob was later expelled from the NFB, and Gerry went on to work for the NFB at the local, state and national levels for many years.
In the late '70s Gerry married Alice Preston, my good Federation friend from Livermore. She had also lived in the South American country of Colombia and the state of Maine. Alice moved to Livermore to be near her daughter, Beverly, who lived in Pleasanton. Alice and I spent many hours together on Greyhound buses going to meetings of the old Alameda County Club of the Adult Blind, a chapter mentioned earlier as Pinky Johnson's home chapter.
When Gerry and Alice were married they moved to Reseda in the San Fernando Valley. I spent many happy hours with them in their Reseda condo, especially during some of the early legal work involved in the Acosta expulsion.
Gerry attended national conventions beginning in the '50s and ending only with his sudden death in the late '80s. Gerry was a good friend to Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, to our current NFB president Dr. Marc Maurer and to our current NFBC president Nancy Burns. No assignment was too big or too small for Gerry to undertake when called upon.
It was not only ironic but also extremely sad to learn that Gerry died of a massive heart attack while sitting at a bus stop in the San Fernando Valley waiting for a bus to go home from a Federation activity. I believe half of Los Angeles attended his funeral.
Gerry was very active in Democratic
politics both before and after his blindness. Two of his good political friends were Assemblyman Dick Floyd from the Torrance area and state Senator Mervyn Dimoly, recently returned to the Senate after an absence of several years. Senator Dimoly still remembered Gerry during a conversation with Don and Nancy Burns in Sacramento recently.
I feel somewhat frustrated in trying to do justice to the lives and Federation careers of Muzzy, Pinky and Gerry. They were certainly shining lights in the early and middle years of our movement. The NFB is a better place because of these three individuals.
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