While working on our state's membership list today, I reflected on the people represented by each name. Many of them hold a special place in my heart. We are losing a lot of older members. These are the people who we can personally thank for Social Security programs that raised much of our population out of poverty, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Braille literacy legislation and so much more in the way of social justice. These are the people who worked at jobs before disability civil rights were even conceived.
Sadly, on April 25th Michigan lost one of these valued senior members, Sue Illingworth. At 83 she was still going strong working on behalf of all of us and doing it so seamlessly. We just spoke to her at our quarterly board meeting four days prior to her death and she attended a committee meeting for our resolutions committee the night she passed away. Sue had a heart attack. It was a shock to everyone.
I can't remember a time when I didn't know the Illingworths, as they have been a consistent fixture in the history of our state since before I was even born. A graduate of Ohio State with a degree in education, Sue spent her career as a home teacher in Ohio and for the state of Michigan as a rehabilitation teacher for the blind. Sue herself was dealing with the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, and she ultimately lost all of her sight. But that wouldn't stop Sue, who remained active after retirement with the Lions Club and the Michigan Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Once when I was in my 20s she said to me how irritating it was to her that many people didn't think that a blind person could be employed and afford to pay for things. She was proud of her work, as we all should be, and she had no trouble speaking her mind to set people straight when they just didn't get it. Sue was always a true champion for our community.
Sue was a personality of so much more worth than my words can express here. She and her husband George were the best set of inseparable soul mates I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. They routinely finished each other's sentences and it was obvious how important one was to the other. There is a tale that, at a Halloween party some time in the past, Sue dressed in slacks and went with a T-shirt that read "Hershey's" and George was dressed the same, but his shirt read "Hershey's With Nuts." Sue could be so whimsical! And, like most seniors, she had a lot of stories and history to share.
Sue is survived by her husband of 48 years, George. The hearts and minds of all those who are blind and have known the Illingworths will be with him as he grieves and attempts to adjust to life without his best friend. It is suggested that those who wish to further honor the memory of Mrs. Suzanne "Sue" Illingworth may do so by making a contribution to: Lions Club-Plymouth Chapter or Wayne County Regional Library For the Blind, 30555 Michigan Ave., Westland, MI 48186. There is now a void that can never be filled by another. We miss you, Sue!
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