Although I'm usually pretty good at putting words on paper, I have struggled to find the right words to describe Ralph's contributions to people who are blind, and to the programs that serve them. Nonetheless, I'll try to convey my thoughts and feelings as precisely and as well as I can.
Ralph Sanders was a man of great talent and great complexity. In exhibiting that talent, and in dealing with his own complexities, Ralph often rubbed people the wrong way. He could be quite charming, but often was the bull in the china shop, pressing his thoughts and ideas without consideration of the opinions of others. He always was convinced he was right in his positions on matters. Underlying this trait, I think, was an unshakable desire to advance the cause of blindness, both collectively and individually. He worked tirelessly, often taking on more than one person should have to handle at one time. Sometimes it was not so much that he was so confident in his own abilities as it was the recognition that if he didn't undertake a task, it wouldn't get done. So, he volunteered to edit "The Vendorscope," the quarterly publication of Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America, and to chair the RSVA legislation committee, and to work on ACB publications, resolutions, and countless other activities. I am sure his ability to make a living suffered because he tried so hard to do so many things for which he was not compensated. At the same time, he managed to juggle some 30 Social Security cases and several evidentiary hearings and arbitrations.
Not too many people have had the opportunity to observe repeatedly Ralph's advocacy on a personal level. I've sat on numerous arbitration panels convened under the Randolph-Sheppard Act in which Ralph served as the representative of a blind vendor who had been wronged by the actions or omissions of a state licensing agency. Although Ralph was trained as a journalist, and not as a lawyer, I often marveled at his ability to conduct and manage a case, including his mastery of the documents and evidence. Many times he equaled or surpassed in presentation and ability the courtroom style and knowledge of his legally trained adversaries. At one point he considered going to law school, but the frantically busy nature of his life prevented it.
I considered Ralph a friend, but not a close one. I think he had the same impression. Ralph was a person of many layers and levels. I'm not sure how deeply I was able to penetrate those layers. He rarely confided in me as to his feelings, beliefs, and frustrations. He probably had a closer relationship with a number of other people. Yet, I feel a deep and lasting loss. I will miss him. ACB will miss him. RSVA will miss him. It is only after he has been gone for awhile that we will be able to perceive how much he contributed and how valuable his counsel, how important his very considerable mind.
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