Granger: I love blind people
by Aziza Jackson
It’s late Wednesday morning and John Granger has just gotten back from breakfast with some of his blind buddies.

Granger takes them out every Wednesday morning to eat and chat about life and ballgames at Tina’s Home Cookin on East Street.

Breakfast talks with them will continue as his time on the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind Board of Trustees comes to an end Nov. 30.

“One of the main things about being blind is isolation,” Granger said. “You can’t drive unless you have a sighted spouse.”

Granger, however, is able to drive and picks up the four breakfast buddies for what he calls “Bad Boy Day,” and often reflects on his memories with Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind.

Granger has had a lifelong commitment to AIDB.

In 1937, the Houston County native enrolled at Alabama School for the Blind at the age of 11.

But it was at the age of 15 that Granger met his beloved wife Mary, whom he calls his “sweetheart.”

“Had it not been for her, I would still be at ASB,” he chuckled.

After graduating from ASB in 1944, Granger took a job at the Talladega Furniture Company, where he worked for seven years before working at the Talladega Lumber and Supply Company.

Back then, he said Alabama Industries for the Blind had two divisions: one for men and one for women, and it was losing money fast.

“They were talking about closing it,” Granger said.

It wasn’t until Granger came to work as general manager of Alabama Industries for the Blind that the company was able to secure a contract for military neckties, a contract that would turn things around.

“We learned to make neckties,” Granger said. “We used everyone but the cook to make them.”

Granger said once the Vietnam War started, the neckties were in high demand.

“We were supposed to make a nickel, but ended up making a dime profit,” Granger said. “That’s how we started making a profit.”

Granger said that through the years he has seen AIB grow considerably and dramatically from the 60 employees and $250,000 in annual sales he remembers during his first year there.

After his time at AIB, Granger went on to make great strides as president and CEO of the Royal Maid Association for the Blind in Hazelhurst, Miss., the largest affiliate of National Industries for the Blind.

Granger is noted for having provided innovative leadership at the Royal Maid Association for the Blind during his time there until 1995.

During that time, he said Mary was always right there beside him.

“She was the bookkeeper/secretary when we went to Mississippi,” Granger said. “She was just my sweetheart, my right hand. She read to me; I couldn’t read well. I could read Braille.”

Granger and Mary raised five children together, all of whom now (including several grandchildren) work in education or with children with impairments or disabilities.

“See, my family was involved in this blindness business; they don’t know anything else,” Granger said.

After 65 years of marriage, Mary died in April 2010, a decade after Granger was first appointed to the AIDB Board of Trustees by Gov. Don Siegelman.

Granger was reappointed to another term in 2009 to represent the State of Alabama at-large and has served on the executive committee, finance and operations committee, and served as chairman of the facilities committee.

In 2008, AIDB named Alabama Industries for the Blind’s Granger-McFaden Complex in his honor for his many accomplishments in education, rehabilitation and employment of individuals who are blind and visually impaired.

Since the time his eyes failed him in the fourth grade, Granger said he knew he had to be twice as smart and work twice as hard.

“You’ve got to make your own way,” Granger said. “You have to work hard because you almost have to train the public.”

Although his time on AIDB’s board has come to an end, Granger is still passionate about making sure blind and visually-impaired people get the help they need to be trained and employed and live successful lives.

Granger still plans to stay involved with AIDB activities and said that in his nearly 70 years since graduating from ASB, he has only missed one annual alumni meeting.

“It’s been my life,” Granger said. “You hear a guy talk about Alabama/Auburn? Well ASB is my Alabama/Auburn.”

Granger also continues to work in his shop at home for a program where people donate old chairs and stools that can be refurbished and resold.

The proceeds from the sale go to ASB to help with supplies and field trips.

“Let’s just say I gave a damn. I love blind people,” Granger said.

“It’s not what you can do, it’s what you can get others to do.”

Contact Aziza Jackson at ajackson@dailyhome.com.

© 2012