Readers Remembrances of Otis Stephens
Dr. Otis Stephens was one of my early mentors when I became part of the American Council of the Blind. As a political science major and political junkie — not to mention law school drop-out — I enjoyed many discussions with Otis both at national conventions and by phone on constitutional and political issues over many years. For those who don’t know, Dr. Stephens was a constitutional law scholar of some repute. In 2008 or ’09, he invited me to be a guest lecturer for one of his constitutional law seminars at the University of Tennessee to speak about the Americans with Disabilities Act and the advocacy work carried out on behalf of blind people by ACB. A Yiddish word sums up the man who was Otis Stephens: he was a “mensch,” a gentleman. We have lost one of the pillars of this organization. I am truly saddened by his passing. ACB will be a poorer organization without Dr. Otis Stephens.
— Mitch Pomerantz, Pasadena, Calif.
A few years after Linda’s passing, Otis married Mary Ballard, former editor of “The Braille Forum.” She passed away in 2011, and I don’t think Otis really ever recovered from that. It is also notable that Otis, along with another colleague, wrote a college-level textbook on constitutional law that saw several editions published over a period of years.
Otis was as friendly and personable as he was intelligent. He cared a lot about people, and it showed. I met him at my first ACB convention in 1976 as the only representative of the Washington Council of the Blind. He took the time that week to meet up with me and discuss a candidate for whom he was providing support, Delbert Aman from South Dakota. I was not only flattered to be lobbied, but deeply impressed to meet a blind person of such scholarly and personable abilities.
Otis was certainly my role model for managing meetings and I often asked myself when presiding at ACB conventions: “How might Otis handle this or that situation?” He was a true master when presiding over a meeting.
Thank you, Otis, for the many contributions you made, tangible and intangible, to the blindness community.
— Chris Gray, St. Louis, Mo.
My first ACB convention was in 1995, and I remember being told at that time that one of the things I should really do at convention was go and hear Otis Stephens do his annual Supreme Court update at the blind lawyers’ meetings. Being just a couple years out of law school at that point, I remember thinking to myself during that first update that I attended, wow, what an incredible gift this guy has at explaining very complex things in ways that are clear and concise, not always very lawyerly traits as we know. Over the years, I attended those excellent presentations whenever I could, and I always learned a lot from them and often heard analysis of the cases that seemingly nobody else had caught onto ... and that makes sense because not that many in the disability world were/are reading decisions for each and every one of their possible implications for folks with vision loss as well as all folks with disabilities, etc. What a tremendous leader for our community and our organization; God bless his memory.
— Mark Richert, Arlington, Va.
The world — and all of us — have lost a brilliant, compassionate, and engaging person. There are too few people like Otis in our world and our time, and we can all consider ourselves very fortunate to have known him, worked with him, or been lucky enough to share any time at all with him. Rest in peace, Otis.
— Penny Reeder, Montgomery Village, Md.
Bernice met Otis in Mobile in 1975, where he was very supportive to the new National Alliance of Blind Students. I got to know him when he asked me to serve as parliamentarian when he presided. I think he was very tolerant of my limitations as a parliamentarian. That was when I met Governor Clinton in 1988 in Little Rock. I credit that to Otis, because I got a handshake because I was on the platform as parliamentarian.
Otis always made a point of greeting Bernice and me and spending a little time with us at each convention. One thing that has not been mentioned is Otis’ service as chair of the constitution and bylaws committee, where he presided over a lot of cleaning up of ACB’s governance documents.
— Roger Petersen, Mountain View, Calif.
Otis Stephens was a gentleman. More than that, he was the kind of man who could make others want to emulate him. This was my experience of knowing him, and I’m sure I’m not the only member of ACB who could say that.
Rest in peace, Dr. Stephens!
— John Huffman, Indianapolis, Ind.
I first met Otis in 1975 when he was at Harvard University. I last saw him about five years ago at a holiday party in northern Virginia. For many years, we would meet at conventions and other meetings where we would catch up with each other.
One of the things I always admired about Otis was his great ability to make people feel welcomed and comfortable. While being a very brilliant man, he was such a humble and caring person. Otis could give someone a compliment without putting himself in the middle of it. That is something we see far too little of these days. Otis was highly respected. He worked to earn it and not demand it.
Otis was the impetus in the creation of the Bay State Council of the Blind while he was living in Boston in 1975 and ‘76. He got several people together to grow it from the Blind Leadership Club of Boston, ACB’s first affiliate in Massachusetts. Some of them included Marlaina Lieberg, Charlie Crawford, Chris and Kathy Devin, Phyllis Mitchell, Philip Pofcher (past president of American Blind Lawyers Association), Merrill Maynard (artist and active in Friends-in-Art at that time), and Frank and I, among others. BSCB owes him a great deal.
When the roll call of ACB’s strongest leaders is read, Dr. Otis Stephens’ name will be among the first.
— Terry Pacheco, Wheaton, Md.
Four ACB past presidents take a break from convention activities. Left to right, they are: Paul Edwards, Oral Miller, LeRoy Saunders, and Otis Stephens.