Virginia Jacko and I first met face-to-face on September 14, 2006, although we had talked several times by phone over the prior month. When my taxi from the airport arrived at the Miami Lighthouse For the Blind and Visually Impaired at 8 a.m. that day, I was feeling uncharacteristically apprehensive. The purpose of my first visit to the Miami Lighthouse was to officially kick off a major project – we called it the “High-Impact Governing Initiative” – aimed at strengthening the governing role, functions, and structure of the Lighthouse Board of Directors. In a few minutes I would be meeting Virginia, who had been the Miami Lighthouse’s first blind president & CEO since June 2005, after serving in an interim, pro bono capacity for the prior four months. Most consultants probably feel a slight tingle of danger at the prospect of working with a whole new cast of characters when beginning a new engagement, but I had an unaccustomed case of nerves when I got out of the cab that morning.
In retrospect, I realize my trepidation had to do with Virginia’s being blind. Although I had briefly interacted with a handful of blind people in various consulting engagements over the years, I had never worked closely with a blind chief executive in my twenty-five years of nonprofit consulting. So on the taxi ride from the Miami Airport, I found myself worrying about small things that seem a bit silly in retrospect. Was the subject of her blindness off-limits, or would it be appropriate to ask her about the history of her losing her sight? If we walked down the corridor together during my visit, should I take her arm? During the buffet lunch that was being served in the conference room during my meeting with Virginia and her top executives, should I offer to fill Virginia’s plate? Not knowing the rules of etiquette really bothered me, since unwittingly committing a faux pas is not my custom, and the last thing I wanted to do was offend my new CEO client.
This account of my meeting Virginia Jacko comes from my newest book, The Blind Visionary, which Virginia and I co-authored. Due out in January 2010 from Governance Edge, The Blind Visionary tells the extraordinary story of Virginia’s gradually losing her eyesight while serving as a senior financial executive at Purdue University, starting over as a vocational rehabilitation student at the Miami Lighthouse in 2001, and becoming the Lighthouse President & CEO only four years later. In addition to telling Virginia’s fascinating story, The Blind Visionary provides readers with practical guidance in overcoming whatever obstacles they face on the way to fuller, more satisfying lives and careers.
Be on the lookout for other excerpts from The Blind Visionary in future blogs.