lot of things got in the way of many forefathers being able to get formal and
I remember people who couldn’t write their names,
who couldn’t read, who hadn’t gone to school at all, or who had left as early
as the seventh grade.
My favorite barber was one of them. Vernon “Lefty”
Clark had left school in the seventh grade to support his mother.
waiters in Galveston’s
fine restaurants brought customer amazement and big tips because they didn’t write
Paradoxically, many didn’t because they couldn’t.
wisdom primarily placed the blame on economics; the need for children to work
to help their parents feed their family, the result of the Great Depression, needing
to plant and harvest the crops, and selling newspapers and shining shoes when
dad was helping America win a war.
So as social progress began to chip
away at those obstacles, educators and children’s peers began to see that some
children actually couldn’t learn to read. It had nothing to do with not being
Many defaulted to concluding that those who couldn’t learn were
in actuality of low intellect. Dumb.
The premise for the creation of little
Garcia graduated from high school in the early 1950s. He didn’t know that the
reason he couldn’t competently read, write or put numbers on a check had nothing
to do with his intellect, it was because of a type of brain wiring disorder identified
in 1881 called dyslexia.
Joe believed it when the teachers told his parents
that he was too dumb to learn to read.
Even though between five and ten
percent of the population had some form of dyslexia, many professional educators
weren’t trained to recognize it, so until recent years, its occurrence often passed
Paradoxically, Joe became close friends with Nixon Quintrelle,
a man whose whole life had been spent reading, learning, and writing speeches
for famous people, all the while rarely letting on that he had a Ph.D. in history
from Emory University.
For the next twenty, maybe thirty years, Nixon
read to Joe, and they traveled throughout America and Europe with Nixon weaving
the rich history of the place where they were standing.
When they were
in the car driving somewhere, they listened to audio books. At home they watched
PBS and educational channel programs.
Joe had an incredible memory. And
he could parrot what he had learned by way of his ears and his sight with the
accuracy of a college professor.
Nixon died about twenty years ago, but
not without leaving Joe with a brilliant education.
Joe died last week
courtesy Matt Hannon
personal contributions to Galveston’s
beauty was enormous, as he and his crew cared for the landscaping and maintenance
for the Mitchell properties, received a state landscaping award for the floral
beauty of the grounds he designed and planted at Sea-Arama Marineworld, and with
Nixon, they bought, restored and furnished three Galveston historical homes, all
of which were picked by the Galveston Historical Foundation for annual homes’
A week or two after Nixon died Joe stopped by my office, closed
the door and said, “Bill, I need to tell you something. I’m gay.” I made out like
I hadn’t suspected.
His confession seemed to be such an irony. The public
has long since learned that many people who can’t read are dyslexic, not dumb.
Meanwhile, the public continues to wrestle with the issues that cause hurt to
homosexuals and lesbians.
Joe had spent a lifetime dealing with the social
hurt dealt him because of his dyslexia and homosexuality.
But those who
knew him and saw his work, knew what he really was: a genius in blue jeans, gimme
hat, and with dirt under his fingernails who could run intellectual circles around
Those who had challenged him before, rarely showed up to provoke
one a second time.
2012 – William
Cherry's Galveston Memories" July
20, 2012 column
Schoolhouses/Education | People
| Columns | Texas
a Dallas Realtor and free lance writer was a longtime columnist for "The Galveston
County Daily News." His book, Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories, has sold
thousands, and is still available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com and other
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Cherry's Galveston Memories