by Sara Conrad
When I was asked to write this memoir for Brenda Dillon, I pondered where to begin. Should I tell you about her tireless advocacy efforts? How about her contributions to the leadership in ACB and its affiliates? Certainly, Brenda Dillon made immeasurable impacts within the blindness community as well as disabled communities across the country. Many of us experienced her enthusiasm for fundraising, her heart for service, and her diligence in every project. Her obituary explains many of the adventures Brenda enjoyed as she paved a way for blind and visually impaired people, overcoming obstacles and standing up for the defenseless every time.
Still, there was far more to Brenda Dillon than the outer shell of an advocate, leader, and colleague. Many of us knew Brenda on a personal level, Brenda our friend. During her 58 wonderful years of life, Brenda was a loving wife, mother, and supporter; she was a foster mom for many children and was very involved in her church. This was all apparent at her memorial service, as blind and sighted friends came together, sharing light-hearted and insightful stories of the many marks Brenda made on this world.
That said, all of these relationships can be found in previous articles and speeches about Brenda; many people have written and spoken about her dedication. There was far more to Brenda Dillon's impact on us than can be explained in mere words. I will, however, try to share some of the less obvious qualities Brenda possessed.
First, Brenda had a heart for others, especially the younger generations. Brenda spent many years as an advisor to ACB Students and as a mentor to future ACB leaders. She took it upon herself to encourage future lawyers, teachers, and professionals from the blindness community, making it clear that students do not need sight to have a vision. Brenda's personal mission for student success has seen many students through undergraduate and graduate studies and helped connect young people to ACB, a place to belong.
In addition to her undying love for students, Brenda was as genuine as humanly possible. She was never afraid to stick up for the underdog, as long as she believed in their story. Brenda supported people and organizations who would otherwise fall "under the radar." Her focus was always on justice and fairness rather than popularity or power. Instead, she used whatever power she gained from those who saw her genuine heart to extend her gifts and talents in support of those in need. Brenda was a true warrior for those who could not fight for themselves and an honest friend to all.
The final quality that comes to mind when thinking of Brenda Dillon was her faith; Brenda was never without determination or passion for success, whether in advocacy efforts, raising and sustaining a family, or battling cancer. She was a woman of prayer and insight, reaching out to the faith of others in difficult times. It is said that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, and Brenda saw many mountains move due to her unending perseverance. She never left a job unfinished. After all, many noted that Brenda died at the exact moment her term as vice president of ACB was completed. As I do not believe in coincidences, I found this to be our comic relief in losing her, a smile to remember her persistent participation in all areas of life.
Although all of these attributes speak to Brenda's character, I want to close with a personal tribute to her. I had the honor of working with Brenda Dillon for four years in ACB. These four years were not average years of one's life; these were my four years of undergraduate studies.
I met Brenda at the 2009 ACB convention in Orlando, Fla. I was a scholarship winner traveling on my own for the first time, and I found myself amidst a sea of blind and visually impaired people I did not know. I received my registration information, and glancing at the calendar, saw that there would be a 5K walk and run the next morning. I thought to myself, "I've done fundraisers like this before. I'll just show up and see if I can participate." I met the small group of ACB participants in the hotel lobby, the first of whom to greet me being Brenda Dillon. I'll never forget her big smile and unmatchable excitement when she heard a student was attending the walk. Needless to say, I received the trophy for youngest participant at the walk in Orlando as well as at the walk the following year in Phoenix. I will add that the ACB board of directors proudly changed the walk's name to the Brenda Dillon ACB Memorial Walk, beginning with the walk next July in Las Vegas.
While I was uncertain of my travel and independence abilities that first convention in Orlando, I was even more unaware of the bond I'd share with Brenda. Over the following years, she became one of the most influential people in my life. I was elected secretary of ACB Students that summer in Orlando and was president for the following three years. During that time, Brenda mentored our various committees as well as our board, sharing her experiences in leadership and nonprofit work. More than that, she shared her love.
Brenda was the woman anyone could turn to in time of need. I recall my first time attending the midyear presidents' meeting and legislative seminar in Arlington, Va. I was 19 years old at the time, just a sophomore in college. After many flight delays due to snowy weather (the joys of flying from Michigan in February), I finally arrived at the hotel around 2:30 a.m. Although I had made my hotel reservation, I was told by the hotel staff that I could not stay there, as I was under 21. The matter was resolved after a call to my sleepily awoken parents. The next morning, still flustered from my journey and awaiting the arrival of my luggage that was still in Detroit, I shared my story with my fellow ACB colleagues. Brenda proceeded to put her hands on her hips and lecture me, scolding me for not calling her in the middle of the night to help. She said, "Darlin', don't you know I'm your convention mama?" She was exactly that, the person I, and others, could turn to for any problem. Needless to say, I always contacted Brenda in the future for any travel needs!
Besides showing Brenda's comical and exuberant personality, these are just two of many stories within the tapestry of Brenda Dillon's life. Her joy, grace, energy, and influence will remain ever present in our organization and our hearts.
In closing, I want to offer an opportunity for everyone to share their stories about Brenda Dillon. I am compiling memories, no matter how large or small, into a book. Brenda touched so many lives, and we must treasure these moments. Please send your memories of Brenda, humorous, serious, or something in between, to [email protected] by Oct. 15. Please include photos of Brenda if you have them as well. Together, we can keep Brenda's spirit and spunk alive in ACB forever.
See photos on this page.
Brenda Dillon photos
Brenda Dillon addresses the 2012 convention in Louisville, Ky. She stands behind the lectern on stage, wearing a blue, green and black-striped dress with a black lace collar, and a gold necklace, and she's reading from hard-copy braille notes.
Dan and Brenda Dillon stand together behind and to the right of the table which holds several trophies for the winning participants and teams in the ACB walk/fun run. Behind them are, left to right, Tim Van Winkle, Dan and Leslie Spoone, Cindy Van Winkle, Robert Spangler, Peggy and Michael Garrett, Kevin Berkery and Ardis Bazyn, Donna Brown, Patti Cox, Don Koors, Marsha Farrow, and several other walk/run participants.