As I began to think about writing this memorial piece for our recently departed friend and colleague, Mildred "Milly" Stokes, I decided to try to put a human face on this individual whom the vast majority of "The Braille Forum's" readership had never met in person. Milly was physically a small person, about 4'10" and weighing between 90 and 100 pounds. However, if you were ever to make a wisecrack regarding her diminutive stature, she would quickly retort that she was really big and mighty, and if you refused to accept her assertions, she could prove her point by beating you up. Milly was fiercely competitive.
Milly and her first husband, Abe Brotman, were among the blind pioneers who formed and built the American Blind Bowling Association (ABBA). Milly became one of blind bowling's most decorated female blind bowlers. I first met Milly through regularly attending and participating in ABBA national tournaments in the mid-1970s. Shortly before I met her, Milly had suffered a major injury which seriously endangered the future of her bowling hobby. She had torn several muscles and tendons in her right shoulder, her bowling arm. Her doctors told Milly that the only way she could continue to bowl would be for her to learn to bowl left-handed. While this alternative posed several imposing challenges, and even though her doctors were quite skeptical that Milly could ever return to her medal-winning competitive form, she took the skepticism of some as a challenge. First she had to go down from the 14-pound ball she had used right-handed to a 10-pound ball which she could comfortably use left-handed. The next challenge was to move her approach at least a couple of feet to her right thus getting away from the guide rail which is typically set up for most blind bowlers on the left side of the alley's approach to the foul line, allowing Milly to arrive just short of the foul line with her left-handed release point at the center of the foul line. Through hard work, much experimentation and dogged determination, within a couple of years, Milly did return, even as a remade left-handed bowler, to her form as one of the best female blind bowlers in the ABBA.
While she was not a clothes horse, Milly had excellent taste in clothing and accessories. Her clothes, shoes, belt, pocketbook and purse were beautifully coordinated for matching color, tone and texture. Milly also had a fine taste for jewelry, especially precious gems. When Milly went to an event such as the banquet at an ACB national convention, or to less formal social gatherings such as parties which she became legendary for hosting at ACB national conventions, she would always be dressed elegantly for the occasion, with just a hint of flirtatiousness. She loved a good party, and she hosted many of them. While her drink of choice was top-shelf brands of scotch, her fuzzy navel cocktail (made primarily of peach schnapps and orange juice) became a fixture at Milly's Place, which she hosted at national conventions. She loved having fun, even telling a ribald joke on occasion which would prompt a hearty laugh from the entire room.
Without telling too many out-of-school tidbits, I hope that I have put a human face on this truly extraordinary woman and fighter and advocate for the rights of all blind people everywhere. She was born Mildred Louise Van Dorne in Bethlehem, Pa., on March 2, 1927, and she died under hospice care at her home in Arlington, Va., on the evening of Sept. 6, 2010. She graduated from the Overbrook School for the Blind in the class of 1947. Milly is survived by her son, Louis Brotman of Philadelphia, Pa.; her granddaughter, Nila Waldone-Hughes, also of Philadelphia; a great-granddaughter, Rhiannon Thomas of Jacksonville, Fla.; as well as by two married nieces who both reside in the Allentown, Pa., vicinity. Milly was a life member, and she accumulated many other ACB credits to her name that are too numerous to list separately in these pages. Her red hair and spunkiness are memories that will remain vividly etched in the hearts and minds of those who were fortunate enough to have met and worked with Milly during her long and productive lifetime.
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