Friday, January 25, 2013

Celebrating GDB’s Oldest Working Graduate: Don Knight

By Emily Simone
GDB Graduate Field Representative

Emily Simone with Don Knight and his guide dog

I am writing this memorial in celebration of an amazing GDB graduate, Donald Frederick Knight, age 100, who passed away on Jan. 19, 2013.  He was born in 1912.  When I met Don, he was living in Boulder, Colo., in a high-rise apartment that overlooks the University of Colorado campus His 10th story apartment has the best view of the famous Flatiron Mountain Range in the entire city…no kidding! People might pay millions for this view. Don lived alone and remained sharp as a tack and completely independent up until just one month before his passing. He was a remarkable man in so many ways and is officially the oldest active GDB graduate we’ve ever had.

Don first came to GDB in 1993 at the youthful age of 81 and trained with Marin a stunningly beautiful golden retriever male who had a wonderful, ‘old soul’. They were inseparable for 12 years and had a bond that went beyond anything I have seen in my many years at GDB. Marin was devoted to Don, and Don would have jumped off a cliff for his beloved Marin. Marin succumbed to aggressive cancer in early 2005 and this ended friendship was devastating to all involved… From the local vets, to GDB’s vet staff and the AGS grief counselor, we all wept copiously for Don and his lost Marin.

Don’s next soul mate was Sachi, a spunky little female yellow lab, with whom he graduated in June of 2005 at the amazing age of 94! Don worked with Sachi until summer 2012. Sadly Sachi passed away suddenly from aggressive cancer. Don was devastated to lose his constant companion.

Don loved GDB and over the years, he and I developed a warm relationship. He looked forward to my visits and I tried to visit him whenever I was in Colorado. One of my fondest memories was a time when I arrived for a visit and he had set up TV trays in his living room and served me a lovely take-out Chinese lunch, served on his deceased wife’s best bone china dish ware. It was so very sweet and touching.

Don lived through two world wars and witnessed the invention of cars, television and guide dogs as a mobility aid. He spoke frequently and lovingly of his lost wife and son.

On my last visit with Don, this last October, I took him to his favorite restaurant ‘The Buff’ in downtown Boulder. I asked him what his secret was for living to the age of 100 and still being so independent and sharp. He was humble and couldn’t offer any miracle for discovering the key to eternal youth. He did tell me that sharing his life with his guide dogs gave him a reason to live and thrive….Isn’t that what our mission is all about????

Gail Paulson: Friend, Mentor, Angel

By Aziza Rodriguez

God watched you as you suffered, and knew you had your share.
He gently closed your weary eyes and took you in his care.
Your memory is our keepsake, with that we will never part.
God has you in his keeping; we have you in our hearts.
Nothing could be more beautiful than the memories we have of you.
To us you were someone special. God must have thought so too.
All our lives we shall miss you, as the years come and go,
But in our hearts you will live forever. Because we love you so.
God saw you were getting tired, and a cure was not to be.
So he put his arms around you and whispered "Come with me"
With tearful eyes we watched you suffer and fade away.
Although we loved you dearly, you were not meant to stay.
A golden heart stopped beating, hard- working hands to rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us, He only takes the best!

Gail Paulson and Firestone

I met Gail Paulson when I was fifteen years old. She came to me offering to stand by me while my family and I fought for my educational rights as a blind student in public school. She was inspirational and comforting, and one of the few who would set aside the legal aspect of the fight to listen to me express the stress I was under. Even after the issue was resolved, Gail stayed by my side as a mentor and friend. She was honest and caring, she always had something inspirational to say, or advice to give.

Every visit was begun, and ended with a warm hug full of love. She was forever attempting to smooth out conflict, and see the good side to everything. Gail assisted a number of students in our county to express themselves on many topics, including school, socialization, family, and how that all was affected by blindness.

We took a trip to Catalina Island, where she was around if we needed her, but encouraged us to find things independently and experience the island for ourselves. I took many trips to various blindness related conventions and conferences with Gail, she could always make me laugh. Especially when I didn’t want to wake up early, and she got her present guide dog to lick me into submission.

She loved her dogs fiercely. My heart broke when I answered the phone to find out her sweet Firestone had passed. Hearing the tears in her voice jolted me back to reality, even the people that are the strongest are affected by life and its tribulations. I spent Easter of 2012 with her, hoping to ease the pain of her loss with the presence of my rambunctious guide. We laughed and cried, and talked for hours.

When she left California for her annual trip to North Dakota, I was sure I’d see her at Christmas. Fate had other plans; I could never reach her, which wasn’t all that strange. When my mother discovered Gail had been admitted into the hospital I tried frantically to find someone to give me more information, calling mutual friends, but there was very little news. Soon after, I received the news that she passed on. The thought still brings tears to my eyes, and I miss her terribly.

I despair at the loss, and yet, rejoice that my friend is no longer suffering. She was as solid as a friend as you could ask for, and she will always have a place in the heart of my family. Her wisdom will stay with me, as will the memory of her laughter. My only regret is not having been allowed to say goodbye. My deepest condolences go out to her family, and the friends she’s left behind. She spoke of her children and grandchildren with such love. I find solace in the idea that she is looking down on all of her family, friends, and guide dog teams, with a smile, Firestone sitting at her side, with his head in her lap, wagging his tail. I know she’d wish us all to smile despite the pain, to go forward and make her proud. I’ve lost a friend, but gained a guardian angel.