Why the First Lady of Cyber-Space Has Inspired Thousands
Written in 2001 - A Tribute
She graduated cum laude from Capital University where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She has been a music teacher, can play 12 instruments knows at least 7 languages. She has been featured in Discover and People, has conversed online with the Vice President, is remembered in the Smithsonian Institution and has been inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame. She single-handedly designed the IBM Special Needs Data Base and holds the highest certification as a Braille music proof-reader for the Library of Congress. For eighteen years she has managed some of the busiest and most volatile forums on CompuServe with a membership of thousands. She is a woman of deep personal faith, Incidenttly, Georgia Griffith has been blind since birth and deaf for over 40 years.
Georgia’s achievements would have been noteworthy for a sighted and hearing person. In fact, most of us who met her in cyberspace would have never suspected that she was “handicapped.” I use the word, “Handicap” because that is Georgia’s word. She detests the term, “disabled.”
“I am not disabled. I’m handicapped—just like in golf,” Georgia has reminded me time and time again. And I have never heard her complain about those handicaps.
Because, for many years, I have been preparing to write her biography, my personal files are filled with newspaper and magazine clippings, letters of congratulations from people in high places, including former President Ronald Reagan, and personal glimpses into the life and achievements of this remarkable woman that I call, “friend.” I have copies of awards, videos, interviews, and e-mails to inform my writing, but I have much more.
My memories are blessed by daily conversations over the past nine years, and two personal visits. No, I did not go to Lancaster, Ohio where Georgia lives alone in the home where she was raised. Georgia came to California with her long-time friend, Bettye Krolick with whom she served on the Board of Directors of the National Braille Association. Georgia loves to travel and she loves to sight-see. I will never forget taking her to the Science and Technology Museum in San Jose . Her curiosity and sense of wonder were active in the wide smile she displayed at we outlined words describing the exhibits in her hand. She touched displays and asked questions and, during breaks, yanked on her friends beards with a girlish giggle.
Georgia loves to eat too. Her mouth was watering in San Jose for a cup of strong, sweet, Vietnamese coffee with a plate of noodles. The stronger and hotter the better. At a banquet, people lined up to shake her hand and tell her how much she had meant to them through the years and how inspired they were by her life. She barely got through her dinner, but had a genuine smile and word of encouragement for each. When honored, she tries to deflect some of that to her friends and assistants. As an example of her humility, I have often received e-mails to this effect:
“Hurry! Write me an acceptance speech—you know, the usual, ‘I’m a nobody, but thanks for this great honor.’”
When Georgia goes out in public, she is in a wheelchair because of balance problems. However, in her home, she shuns that help and pulls herself up on a railing or crawls. Her work schedule is grueling for a young person, much less a newly initiated septuagenarian. She is constantly reading, writing, and thinking using her specially equipped Braille “monitor” on her computer. Instead of tired eyes, Georgia occasionally complains of sore hands—but she keeps going and going and going. In the evenings she reads the Bible and a novel. Retirement is never mentioned.
Every day, Georgia answers hundreds of e-mails and manages online forums with thousands of posted messages, library files, and management duties. She deals with contentious people with grace, humor, and firmness. Everyone is welcome in her forums, but they must comply with the rules and respect other people and their views.
When Georgia reads what is on her computer, she does not scan—a screen or quickly view graphics. She must convert graphical interfaces to text and read one line at a time. Having taught herself several computer languages in 1980, Georgia had to learn to navigate the world of the Worldwide web with all it’s “purty pictures” in the nineties. She did so with determination, grace, and prayer as she has tackled every other task in her life. It takes her longer to read all the material—because of the limitations of Braille technology, but once she has read it, she knows it. Her capacity for learning, digesting, storing, and retrieving information puts most people to shame. A word of advice to the novice: Never challenge Georgia to a battle of wits. You will lose
Georgia has often said, ”to live is to give” and she has lived by that philosophy. Her generosity is celebrated by many, as I can testify. Each of us, sworn to silence, is prevented from widely discussing her kindnesses to us. Therefore, we talk about her keen humor, lively faith, honesty, work ethic, compassion, fairness, and drive. . Mostly, we are grateful for her friendship.
When I first met Georgia in the early nineties, she had recently lost her beloved mother, Toots. We prayed and talked a lot about Heaven and God’s grace. But through the years, I have learned far more about grace from her than I could have ever imparted. I am privileged to call this pioneering woman, my dear friend and sister in Christ.
Postscript: Georgia died in September of 2005 after a brief illness. It took three people to fill her jobs on CompuServe including the author. No one has been able to take her place.
(copyright, 2001, Thomas B. Sims, all rights reserved)