Uncle Roy

Roy’s “Can Do” Attitude – Still Inspiring Others

Mar 2, 2021

Roy was born in 1924 with cerebral palsy, and raised in the small town of Perth, North Dakota. He could walk but needed assistance from his brother and sister on snowy days. His sister (my mother) was devastated at 8 years old when hearing a neighbor say “people like that don’t live very long.”

After Roy finished high school, his family moved to Grand Forks to a house directly across the street from the University of North Dakota, so Roy would not have far to walk to school. Roy gave college a try, could handle the work, but walking and getting around while carrying books and other supplies on campus was a bit more than he could handle.

While visiting Roy and my grandparents in Grand Forks, Roy would walk with my brothers and me to the local park and push us little tykes on the brown, steel merry go round. I was impressed by his red bicycle with lots of fancy gadgets on it – big/fat tires, horn, bell, and many other items.

He was a licensed ham radio operator, communicating with people all over the world. His equipment was in a room his parents had built for him, located past Grandma’s canned fruit, vegetables, sauerkraut, meat, and the wringer washer.

He was excited when getting a transcription machine so he could read what other ham radio operators were saying and type a message back, which reduced the speaking he had to do. He stammered quite a bit and listeners needed to be patient until he got out the words he wanted to say.

Despite this, he was able to regularly play chess with someone in Bolivia via the ham radio.

He also had a business in his parent’s home repairing radios and small appliances, was an avid reader with a room full of books and had an extensive penny collection.

He wore dentures at an early age, presumably due to the manual dexterity needed for good dental hygiene. It took him a long time to eat, but he enjoyed a nice cup of tea when he was done.

Wanting some greater independence, he moved to Minneapolis, another challenging cold, slippery town. While there, he worked as a pharmacy delivery person, delivering prescriptions on bicycle or on foot. His ability to ride a bicycle was surprising to me, given the significant limp he had while walking. At around age 50, he was put in jail because he was assumed to be intoxicated, since he could not walk a straight line and had slurred speech.

I only saw my Uncle Roy a few times during his life, when I was about the age of 5-13. I’ll admit to feeling awkward around him – sometimes having difficulty understanding him and not always knowing what to say to him. It is too bad I learned much later that I should have talked to him like I talk to anyone else. Roy died in his late 70s.

I have been impressed by his ability to focus on what he can achieve, rather than his limitations. I sometimes think of him in heaven, now able to dance like Fred Astaire and communicate with the eloquence of those around him.

 

Story by Ron J., one of Roy’s nephews

Ron wrote this story about his Uncle Roy because “While I only saw Uncle Roy on a few occasions given he was halfway or more across the country, I recognize I could have done a better job of keeping in contact via letters, as email was not around most of his life. I’ll admit to a bit of guilt for that failure and so writing this article is one way to honor him for his can-do attitude to accomplish things despite his physical challenges.

Contributors:

Mary P. (niece)
Pat K. (niece)
Bob J. (nephew)

Kris O’Keefe

UCP was started in Sacramento in 1955 by parents who had a child born with a brain injury – cerebral palsy. At that time, the assumption was that parents would put their child into state institutional care. These parents wanted their children home and in community. Today that mission lives on.

UCP’s mission is to provide programs and services that improve the independence, productivity, and quality of life of people with development disabilities and their families.

UCP serves children and adults with over 20 types of developmental disability, 50% of the people we serve have autism, 27% intellectual delay, 13% Down syndrome, epilepsy & other disabilities and 9% cerebral palsy.

We invite you to share your stories about people who have autism, intellectual delay, Down syndrome, epilepsy or cerebral palsy. You can submit a Word document of 250 to 650 words to Steve Horton at shorton@ucpsacto.org and please include 2 – 3 pictures. You must have the person’s permission.

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